Life in the womb is a bustle of activity as organs develop. Your ears alone take about four months to form. Trying to mimic this in a lab is quite a challenge so researchers specifically focused on turning mouse stem cells into inner ear organoids – 3D structures similar to the developing inner ear. Coaxing stem cells to organise themselves into these structures involved adding a cocktail of chemicals to turn on signalling molecules, in particular one called Wnt. Over several days the stem cells began to lose their stem cell markers (red) and to form organoids, indicated by the cells (blue/green) ruffling around the edges (clockwise from the top left). A closer look revealed the ear cells they developed into were almost indistinguishable from those naturally found in mice. This makes them ideal for testing drugs for their effects on ear cells, specifically the maximum dosage before damage occurs.
Written by Lux Fatimathas