Buried within the gut is a complex network of nerve cells – probably the most complex part of the nervous system outside the brain. It's responsible for controlling the muscles that squeeze food through the gut, as well as directing the production of mucus and molecules involved in digestion. Problems with these nerves can lead to all kinds of health issues, including chronic constipation, diarrhoea or faecal incontinence, and at the moment there are few effective treatments. Scientists have now managed to grow human nerve stem cells from the gut in the lab. They form the blobby structures in these pictures, which have been stained to reveal DNA (blue) and important stem cell proteins (red and green). These blobs, called neurosphere-like bodies, can be transplanted into mice to replace damaged gut nerves, and could form the basis of future stem cell therapies to help people affected by chronic gut problems.
Written by Kat Arney
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