Scientists use rats to study the human brain
One of the most pressing issues for scientists and psychologists today is the mystery of mental illness. Fortunately, recent studies have revealed a method that has allowed us to look deeper into these issues.
Throughout the past decade, there have been several studies where scientists successfully transplanted a small amount of human brain tissue into the head of a rat. The tissue was taken from people who suffered from mental disorders and the procedure caused the rats to exhibit similar behavior to the patients. The study revealed a link in mental and behavioral patterns between the rats and the tissue donor’s disorder. Consequently, scientists conduct these studies to gain insight into how these illnesses are caused.
Dr. Effat Zeidan, assistant biology professor, suggests that this study provides more control to scientists than previous methods.
“We are now trying to understand the behavior that is linked to a change in the brain,” Zeidan said. “We are able to control the variables more so in the rat’s brain and gain a better understanding of how mutations could be linked to mental health disorders.”
Another benefit of this method is that it does not only apply to the study of mental disorders.
“If perfected, this could also open the door to different types of studies like testing drugs and seeing how it affects the healthy brain of the rat before testing on anything else,” said Jeremy Emery, junior biomedical sciences major.
While this method might alleviate some of the burdens of modern psychological studies, the fact that human brain matter is inside a rat creates an interesting issue. Garrett Mendoza, sophomore biomedical sciences major and officer of the Pre-Med Club, suggests that this goes against the laws of nature.
“I think transplanting human brains into rats like that brings up bad implications of there being no sense of boundary, as well as the issue of basically playing God,” Mendoza said.
Zeidan is also concerned with ethics, saying there is a line between how much human brain matter should be placed inside a rat.
“If we’re talking about a certain amount that is not impactful enough to alter the brain structure of the rat by a lot, then it could pass through ethical barriers,” Zeidan said.
Another issue with this type of research is the anatomical disparity between humans and rats. Zeidan explained that the complexity of the human brain is crammed into a rat, meaning some of the nuances of human behavior are lost in translation.
“It’s challenging to understand and study a human mental disorder comprehensively because we can’t really reduce it and isolate it,” Zeidan said.
Though this study introduces some interesting concepts, the benefits are limited to the link between rats’ behavior and humans’ behavior. This is because the simplicity of a
rat’s brain, coupled with its inability to communicate verbally, severely handicaps the research that scientists can conduct.
Regardless, this study will allow a deeper look into the behavioral patterns that are present in people with mental disorders and lend insight into the link
between genetics and neurodivergence.