Scientists have successfully grown miniature stomachs in the lab from human stem cells, guiding them through the stages of development seen in an embryo. The lumps of living tissue, which are no bigger than a sesame seed, have a gland structure that is similar to human stomachs and can even harbour gut bacteria.
The feat, reported in this week’s Nature1, offers a window to how cells in human embryos morph into organs. Scientists say that these ‘gastric organoids’ could also be used to understand diseases such as cancer, and to test the stomach’s response to drugs.
“This is extremely exciting,” says Calvin Kuo, a stem-cell biologist at Stanford University in California. “To be able to recapitulate that in a dish is quite a technical achievement.”
The stem cells used to grow the mini stomachs are pluripotent, or plastic: given the right environment, they can mature into any type of cell. But to coax them down a specific path in the lab requires recreating the precise sequence and timing of environmental cues in the womb — the signals from proteins and hormones that tell cells what kind of tissue to become. Bits of kidney, liver, brain and intestine have previously been grown in a lab dish using this technique.
Article first published: 29 October 2014
Copyright: Reprinted with permission from Nature Publishing Group (“Nature Publishing Group”) through Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service.