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Scientists Create Transparent Brain for Research

Update Date: Apr 11, 2013 11:37 AM EDT
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In an attempt to understand and study the brain even better, scientists from Stanford University revealed that they have create brain models from humans and mice that are both as squishy and as functional as the real thing. According to the researchers, they have turned an entire mouse brain and a part of the human brain transparent so that they could observe how neurons work in receiving and sending information within their networks. Since the brains are transparent, the researchers can map out the networks using different colors to indicate different functions. This kind of research will open up multiple ways for scientists to analyze the brain without having to directly dissect it.

The researchers have coined this new method, Clarity. This method is a lot more effective than previous attempts to make the brain transparent because it manages to keep the biochemistry of the brain intact so that researchers could repeatedly test the brain with different chemicals. The scientists are hopeful that this new model will help other researchers find new ways of dealing with cognitive disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression, and autism.

The lead author of the study, Kwanghun Chung worked with Dr. Karl Deisseroth, who helped create President Obama's project for brain research. They combined their knowledge of the brain model in creating Clarity. Dr. Deisseroth had previous experience developing a technique, optogenetics, which gave the scientist the ability to turn specific brain activity on and off similar to a light switch. The main key behind making this model possible was the use of hydrogel, which is a substance that is composed mostly of water but held together by bigger molecules. Due to the texture of hydrogel, it allows the brain to connect to almost all of the molecules except for the lipids. The lipids are then washed out of the brain, which gives the brain the transparency the scientists wanted.

Although this was a huge step in analyzing the brain, the researchers stated that doing this process for the entire human brain, which is a lot larger and has a lot more lipids than a mouse's brain, would be a difficult task. They aim to accomplish this task, which would change brain research immensely.

The findings were published in Nature. The study was not a part of the new BRAIN initiative presented by the Obama administration. 

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