These flower-like structures are neural rosettes – clusters of human nerve cells growing in plastic dishes in the lab. By ganging up together in this way, the cells start to behave more like their counterparts in a living brain so researchers can investigate the underlying processes at work as the brain grows and develops in the womb. For obvious technical and ethical reasons it’s difficult to study nerve cells taken from human foetuses, but animal models don’t provide a full picture of human processes and come with their own set of ethical issues. Instead, scientists are solving the problem with a technique known as induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Adult skin cells are turned back into stem cells with a cocktail of special chemicals then converted into nerve cells and grown into neural rosettes, shedding light on the earliest processes in human brain development while reducing the need for animal experiments.
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.
BPoD is also available in Catalan at www.bpod.cat with translations by the University of Valencia.