Alzheimer’s is an untreatable progressive brain disease that slowly devastates the memory and conceptual skills of the affected individual. The disease was first identified by Dr. Alois Alzheimer in 1906 after he noticed remarkable changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died after suffering from a mysterious mental disease.
Her symptoms included language problems, memory loss, and erratic behavior. Today, persons showing these symptoms are said to be suffering from Alzheimer’s. Around 5.4 million people in the US suffer from Alzheimer’s. The majority of the affected individuals are aged 65 and older. Persons suffering from the disease have abnormally tangled bundles of fibers known as neurofibrillary and clumps called amyloid plaques in the brain. No cure for Alzheimer’s has been found yet. The drugs that had looked promising when tested on animals failed when used on humans at the great expense of money and time. While there are certain similarities, the human brains are not the same as mice or other animals on which the drugs are tested. In a bid to accelerate the development of a cure for Alzheimer’s and other mental diseases such as Parkinson’s, scientists at the John Hopkins University have developed ‘minibrains’ that imitate the functions of a human brain.
How Minibrains Can Help in Development of Alzheimer’s Disease
The minibrains developed by the researchers at John Hopkins consist of clusters of human neurons and other cells that mimic the structure and function of the brain. They are the tiny models of the real human brain that can help scientists in the ongoing research to provide a cure for the brain disorders including Alzheimer’s.
The miniature model of the brain that is about the size of an insect’s eye and could be produced on a large scale. This will make it easier for the researchers to test the effectiveness and safety of the new drugs in a laboratory setting. The minibrains show evidence of electrical activity that the researchers can measure during clinical trials of the drugs for the Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers could obtain much better information about the effectiveness of the drugs through the minibrains as compared to testing them on rodents. These brains could one day replace the thousands of animals particularly mice that are used in the neurology laboratories.
The team that had developed the minibrains had said that brain cells of people with a particular genetic trait could also be taken to provide a model for examining different neurological diseases.
One thing remains is whether the public will accept the idea of growing ‘human brains’ inside the lab. But the researchers that had developed the minibrains said that there would be less fear of the use of these brains if people understood that the lab-grown miniature brains can never match the functions or structure of the real human brain.
The human brains have billions of cells while the minibrains stop growing after only about 20,000 cells. And these miniature clusters of cells have no way of becoming conscious or making decisions, according to the researchers that developed the minibrains; however, miniaturization is becoming a key factor in the advancement of the sciences and we hope that this will be a breakthrough in medical science that will take the cure for Alzheimer’s to the next level.