Grow An Eyeball In A Dish?

Science fiction fans have been thinking about making eyes from scratch, like in Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner. A genetic designer of eyes has an unpleasant meeting with replicants who interrupt his lab work.

(Genetic design of eyes from Blade Runner)

Well, we're nowhere near being able to do that. However, some interesting work at the RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology in Kobe, Japan have discovered that complex structures like the optic cup can arise spontaneously.

(Cup-shaped structures (green) resembling the embryonic retina)

This was surprising because the cells were not coaxed in any way to form such a structure, says Yoshiki Sasai, director of the Organogenesis and Neurogenesis Group at RIKEN and lead author of the study. From a homogeneous mass of embryonic stem cells, a sophisticated three-dimensional tissue spontaneously emerged. In other words, says Sasai, "the shape of an organ is actually internally programmed." This concept could have profound implications for the field of stem cell research; Sasai suspects that self-organization is possible for other tissue types as well. If that's true, scientists could potentially grow many kinds of organs in the laboratory.

"I think it really represents a significant step forward," says Jane Sowden, a developmental biologist at University College London. Sowden was not involved in the study. "Previous studies have shown that it's possible to differentiate [embryonic stem] cells into distinct types of retinal cells, but what we're seeing in this study is the potential of these cells to organize themselves into tissue of the retina."

From Technology Review.

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