Part of perfecting a replacement is comparing it to the real thing. Scientists examined this slice through the spinal cord of a human foetus to see how their lab-grown organ matched up. Many of the blue-stained cells, such as those highlighted in the white box, contain proteins found in motor neurons (white) and those that help to form connections, or synapses (red) in living spinal tissue. Artificial spinal tissue grown in a lab faithfully mimics features of the real thing – developing from induced pluripotent stem cells it even forms branches out to vascular cells, similar to those that feed blood into the spine. While not intended as a transplant, this organ-on-a-chip makes lab-based investigations into disease and development much easier and closer to real life – and similar technology is being applied to grow useful 'models' of the heart and kidneys and skin.
Written by John Ankers
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