Scientist have found a way to keep slices of living brain tissue alive for weeks and use them to test drugs for neurological and psychiatric disorders. This sounds like something out of an old science fiction movie, where a decapitated human head was kept alive with wires coming out of it, but the “mini-brain” is much sleeker than that. It consists of a glass chip containing tens of thousands of interconnected living brain cells suspended in a solution of artificial brain fluid. To test a drug’s effect on the tissue, 64 electrodes on the chip’s surface monitor the electrical activity of the brain tissue. Right now, the “brain on a chip? uses brain tissue from mice or rats.
Before now, it was hard to keep large pieces of brain tissue alive for more than a few hours, so drugs were only tested on individual nerve cells. But behavior is the result of the electrical activity of billions of brain cells that are connected in complex circuits, not the activity of a single cell, so scientists needed a more sophisticated way to test drugs before they try them out on human beings. One drug company has already used its brain chip to find a drug for anxiety that it believes will have fewer side effects than existing treatments.
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