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See Inside Scientific American Volume 307, Issue 5

How to Grow a Retina from Stem Cells

Biologists have coaxed cells to form a retina, a step toward growing replacement organs outside the body

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In the womb, a ball of identical cells gives rise to varied cell types that ultimately form highly ordered structures and then the full panoply of organs in the human body. The process advances according to an internal biological script that directs each fold and crease of tissue to assume exactly the proper shape and dimension.

Scientists familiar with this progression from simple parts to a complex system have never stopped contemplating embryonic development with a sense of muted wonder and a concomitant desire to replicate early development on top of a laboratory bench—both to understand the biology better and to translate the information into ways of repairing and replacing damaged tissues. Their time may have come. Recent successes in deciphering the intricacies of development have raised the prospect of replacement organs grown outside the body arriving in surgical suites within as little as 10 years.

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