Researchers are making progress in the quest to grow body parts in the lab. The atoll-like eyelets pictured are formed from mouse cells in culture. They have developed into a ‘pouch’ (with a rim of cells coloured green and white) that will form a functioning pituitary gland. The pea-like gland sits at the base of the brain producing hormones that affect fertility, libido, stress, water-retention and growth. Each pouch, which is 10 times smaller than a pinhead, was grown in a dish from embryonic mouse stem cells. The cells were chemically coaxed to form pituitary tissue, which self-assembled into functioning glands. Lab-grown transplantable glands could one day complement hormone replacement therapies. Trials on mice without pituitary glands showed their hormone levels were restored when implanted with a lab-grown spare. Whether biologists can grow more complex organs remains to be seen, but they now hope to grow human pituitaries.
Written by Tristan Farrow
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