Partial, lab-grown pituitary gland works in mice

Grow an organ. Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan, found a new twist on that exciting idea, nurturing mouse embryonic stem cells into forming a partial pituitary gland that worked once implanted into the rodents, without the use of synthetic scaffolding.

The Guardian's Mo Costandi reports that scientists grew the cells under special conditions to the point where they organized themselves into the partial gland. To create an artificial pituitary gland, the Japanese researchers used the stem cells in floating three-dimensional aggregates and treated them with signaling molecules, Costandi explains.

First, the cells differentiate into oral ectoderm and hypothalamic neuroectoderm cells, two types of tissue whose interaction is a necessary first ingredient. The subsequent process is complex, involving tissue folding, the creation of a small sac and further cell differentiation into different types of hormone-producing cells. Scientists were able to create an organ that produced at least four of the separate cells types.

Mice in the study had their pituitary glands removed and scientists implanted a partially constructed one, which worked and maintained normal hormone levels.

The research, as detailed in the journal Nature, is controversial in that it uses embryonic stem cells. The study used mice cells, but will human embryonic stem cells be needed to replicate the study in people? Human embryonic stem cells, certainly, have raised the ire of conservatives in the U.S. for years. And scientists were only able to create a partial pituitary gland, a complex organ that generates hormones regulating everything from growth to blood pressure and sexual organs.

But, as Costandi writes, the study represents a major advance in the experimental field in which scientists more often use synthetic scaffolding to guide tissue growth into an appropriate shape, as Swedish and U.K. researchers did earlier this year to grow a cancer patient a new windpipe.

- here's The Guardian story

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