For years, research in Alzheimer’s disease has been hindered by a lack of accurate models. The brains of mice differ from those of humans, and often “cures” for animals fail to provide the same results in people. A team of Boston researchers may have just solved the conundrum. In what sounds like an excerpt from Frankenstein, scientists have found a way to “grow” human brain cells in a petri dish — a discovery that will hopefully open new doors for neurodegenerative disease research.

The newest huge breakthrough in Alzheimer’s research is named “Alzheimer’s in a Dish,” and funnily enough, that’s exactly what it is. In a study now published in the online journal Nature, lead researcher Rudolph Tanzi and his Massachusetts General Hospital team explain exactly how they were able to reproduce the most common form of dementia in a lab dish. Embryonic stem cells were first grown into healthy brain cells in a petri dish, The New York Times reported. Afterward, the Alzheimer’s genes were added.

These genes were able to manipulate the brain cells, and it did not take long for the researchers to notice Alzheimer’s presence in the cells' clusters. “Sure enough, we saw plaques, real plaques,” Tanzi told The Times. “We waited, and then we saw tangles, actual tangles. It looks like you are looking at an Alzheimer brain.”

While many may view this transition from testing in an organism as complex as a mouse to one as simple as a bundle of cells as a step backward, in reality, it’s the complete opposite. “It is a giant step forward for the field,” Dr. P. Murali Doraiswamy, an Alzheimer’s researcher at Duke University, told The Times. “It could dramatically accelerate testing of new drug candidates. As reported by Independent Science News, in order to find human cures, scientists need to use human subjects. Testing for everything from cancer to diabetes continues to have completely different effects when transferred from mice to human testing.

Along with perhaps providing more reliable results, the growing Alzheimer’s in a petri dish may prove to be more cost efficient. Using mice to study the disease is both time consuming and expensive. “We can test hundreds of thousands of drugs in a matter of months," explained Tanzi, who has already begun to test thousands of experimental drugs, as reported by Newser.

"Alzheimer's in a Dish" has already added to science's understanding of the disease, only weeks after its discovery. Using the model, researchers were able to provide fresh evidence to support the theory that a buildup of amyloids may be the first sign of Alzheimer’s in the brain. This would significantly help in early detection of the disease.

On top of paving the way for Alzheimer’s research, the scientists are confident that their “Alzheimer’s in a Dish” model could be adapted for a number of different neurodegenerative disease researches.

Source: Tanzi RE, Choi SH, Kim YH, et al. A three-dimensional human neural cell culture model of Alzheimer’s disease. Nature. 2014.