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Scientists make mice smarter - using human brain cells

US study finds mice injected with embryonic glial cells had much better memories than normal mice

5 December 2014, 1:51pm
If you suffer from musophobia, you might want to stop reading now.

American scientists claim to have developed mice with brains that are “half human.”

Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical in New York injected cells taken from a human foetus and injected them into baby mice, making the mouse “significantly smarter”.

Professor Steve Goldman told New Scientist magazine that it was like ‘ramping up the power’ of the mouse brain, because human cells are so much more advanced.

The researchers discovered that mice with the human brain cells had memories four times better than their unaltered siblings.  “These were whopping effects,” said Professor Goldman.

In answer to the obvious question "why on Earth...?”, their goal is not to create a new species of ‘supermouse’, much to the relief of all, but rather to make the brains of mice more humanlike in order to “advance understanding of brain diseases”.

The Rochester team developed the mutant mice by injecting so-called ‘glial’ cells from  human foetuses into mouse pups. The foetuses were donated to the project, being left over from IVF treatments.

Glial cells, apart from providing support and protection for neurons, develop into cells called astrocytes, which play an essential role in thought processes, co-ordinating the transmission of electrical impulses between neurons. Human astrocytes are 20 times the size of those in mice and have 100 times the number of tendrils.

The study found that within a year of being injected into the mice, the human cells had taken over with the mouse cells “fleeing to the margins.”

Although Professor Goldman said that the cells did not make the mice ‘more human’ he admitted that the team had stopped short at injecting the cells into monkeys. “We briefly considered it buy decided not to because of all the potential ethical issues,” said  Prof Goldman.

Scientists across the globe expressed surprise that such a pronounced effect could be observed following a simple injection of human cells.

“That the cells work at all in a different species is amazing and poses the question of which properties are being driven by the cell itself and which is by the new environment,” said Prof Wolfgang Enard, of Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

“If you make animals more human-like where do you stop?”

In the meantime, many in the 25-35 age bracket are considering sending the scientists four turtles, ninja weapons and pizza.

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