It might sound like an experiment worthy of Frankenstein, but we won’t have to worry about ‘rat men’ anytime soon.
It’s easy to become concerned when you hear about human brain tissue being spliced into the brains of another animals, but in this particular case there’s nothing to worry about – the experiment was actually part of a recent effort to find new types of treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders.
The research, which was headed up by neuroscientist Sergiu Pasca of Stanford University, took lumps of self-organizing human brain tissue (or ‘organoids’) grown in a lab and then transplanted them into the nervous systems of baby rats so that they became a functioning part of the animals’ brains.
The technique makes for an effective way to overcome the limitations of growing samples in dishes.
“Most of the work that my lab has been doing has been motivated by this mission of trying to understand psychiatric disorders at the biological level so that we can actually find effective therapeutics,” Pasca explained in a press release.
“Many of these psychiatric conditions, such as autism and schizophrenia, are likely uniquely human, or at least, they are anchored in unique features of the human brain.”
“And the human brain has certainly not been very accessible, which has precluded the progress we’ve been making in understanding the biology of these conditions.”
In other words, the motives behind the experiment are totally benign, so we won’t have to worry about human/rat hybrids escaping the lab and running amok… for now, at least.