World-over, there is immense progress in regenerative medicine with scientists creating different organs using stem cells. The recent ones to join this list are the scientists from Dresden University of Technology, Germany, who have created lab-grown spinal cords using embryonic stem cells.
In order to grow tissues and organs, scientists use biodegradable scaffolds. On these, the stem cells are embedded and given the signals & nutrients to develop along the correct path and form the tissue of the right shape.However, developing nervous tissues is much more complex. The cells develop and go through elaborate folds and buckles. As scaffolds cannot be manufactured with such intricate shape, they cannot be used to create nervous tissues. In their experiment, the scientists at University of Dresden used single-cell suspensions of embryonic stem cells within three-dimensional nutrient gel on Petri dishes. By adding retinoic acid, which activates the genes in the stem cells to produce the Sonic Hedgehog protein required for the formation of neurons, fibres and spinal circuitry, the cells differentiated into various cell types and arranged themselves correctly. The researchers confirmed the identity of these cells by staining the lab-grown tissues with fluorescent antibodies that recognize and bind to different proteins synthesised only by each cell type.
Though this development may take a long time before being used in treatments, it surely gives new dimensions to the study of spinal cord development.