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Pituitary glands from scratch

From technology review by Erica Westly


New gland: After 13 days in culture, mouse embryonic stem cells had self-assembled the precursor pouch, shown here, that gives rise to the pituitary gland. Photo from Nature.

Last spring, a research team at Japan’s RIKEN Center for Developmental Biology created retina-like structures from cultured mouse embryonic stem cells. This week, the same group reports that it’s achieved an even more complicated feat—synthesizing a stem-cell-derived pituitary gland.

The pituitary gland is a small organ at the base of the brain that produces many important hormones and is a key part of the body’s endocrine system. It’s especially crucial during early development, so the ability to simulate its formation in the lab could help researchers better understand how these developmental processes work. Disruptions in the pituitary have also been associated with growth disorders, such as gigantism, and vision problems, including blindness.

The study, published in this week’s Nature, moves the medical field even closer to being able to bioengineer complex organs for transplant in humans.

The experiment wouldn’t have been possible without a three-dimensional cell culture. The pituitary gland is an independent organ, but it can’t develop without chemical signals from the hypothalamus, the brain region that sits just above it. With a three-dimensional culture, the researchers could grow both types of tissue together, allowing the stem cells to self-assemble into a mouse pituitary. “Using this method, we could mimic the early mouse development more smoothly, since the embryo develops in 3-D in vivo,” says Yoshiki Sasai, the lead author of the study.

Read the complete article here. The original manuscript can be found via Nature.

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