What can a tiny, pin-size brain tell us about Zika?
Scientists are growing "minibrains" — small partial replicas of human and animal brains — and using them to understand how diseases, drugs and other phenomena interact with a normal human brain, according to recent reporting from NPR.
Minibrains begin as human skin cells that have been chemically "coaxed" into first becoming neural stem cells and then finally different varieties of brain cell.
These minibrains then act like, as the name suggests, tiny models of brains, giving researchers a chance to see how a disease such as Zika would behave in a brain of an unborn child as it forms in the womb. Such research would be impossible in the brains of lab mice, for example, since mouse brains lack the developing cells vulnerable to the disease.
But the minibrain develops much the same way a normal brain would — though only partially and on a much, much smaller scale. This gives a novel glimpse into the way growing neural networks look and communicate.