What could this tiny ball of cells about the size of a hair’s width and the roughly half-metre long cylinder of nervous tissue that’s the adult human spinal cord possibly have in common? Actually, quite a lot. This cluster of cells is a miniscule version of a section of neural tube – the precursor to the spinal cord – grown from a single mouse embryonic stem cell. Scientists placed stem cells in a jelly-like matrix infused with a broth that stimulated them to divide and develop into the different types of nerve cells found in a neural tube (stained white, red and green). Amazingly, these cells organised themselves into an arrangement akin to that seen in a real mouse spinal cord. If the procedure can be replicated with human stem cells, such lab-grown spinal balls might theoretically provide a source of tissue for regenerating damaged nerves in people with spinal cord injuries.
Written by Ruth Williams
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