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Celebrating Stem Cells – II Ready for Axon

Transplantable lab-grown nerve fibres

17 December 2019

Ready for Axon

Injury to a nerve is often followed by a long period of recovery. The long thin fibres of nerve cells, known as axons, need time to grow back – but sometimes the damage is too great, leading to permanent loss of feeling, sensation or memory. Here is a new way to help – axons grown in the lab for transplants. First a cluster of human stem cells forms an organoid (green blob, left) – this shares some of the functions of the brain, like developing healthy 'branches' called neurites with their own axons – pictured growing over 50 days inside tubes of nourishing hydrogel. Researchers were able to pass signals down these axon columns (the longest measuring 1 cm) and may one day grow working axons from a patient’s own stem cells to patch up and repair damaged nerves – like an engineer replacing a severed electric cable, albeit 100 times smaller.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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