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
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.