Email Print Share


Mini-brains advance human brain research

Inexpensive brain model replicates a living brain in key ways.

Easy-to-grow mini-brains offer the potential for large-scale disease studies.
View video

Easy-to-grow mini-brains offer the potential for large-scale disease studies.
Credit and Larger Version

March 29, 2018

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

The human brain contains about 86 billion nerve cells, billions of nerve fibers and trillions of connections between them. To probe this complex bundle, in 2015, NSF-funded researchers developed a 3-D model of about 8,000 nerve and supporting cells, described as a "mini-brain." Unable to think but electrically active, the mini-brain offers an inexpensive, easy-to-make model to study nerve cell networks, the impact of drugs on nerve tissue or nerve tissue transplants. The mini-brain costs about 25 cents to grow.

In 2017, the researchers discovered that the mini-brains produce networks of capillaries, a critical feature needed to study brain conditions, injuries and diseases such as stroke, concussions and Alzheimer's. Researchers can now alter tissue conditions or introduce drugs to observe tissue responses.

NSF Directorate(s):
Directorate for Engineering

Related Awards
#0547060 CAREER: Axon Guidance by Multiple Cues
#1134166 Axon Guidance by Critical Cues - Engineering Nerve Growth In Vitro and Observing From Afar

This NSF Impact is one of thousands of research outcomes made possible by NSF that help fuel the U.S. economy, enhance national security and sustain U.S. global leadership by advancing knowledge. You can search for more NSF Impacts at

 Get Impacts by Email