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Year in Review: Bioengineers make headway on human body parts

New techniques produce mimics of brain, liver, heart, kidney, retina

3:00pm, December 20, 2013

ALMOST BRAIN  A cross section of an immature lab-grown approximation of a human brain reveals neurons (green) and neuron-producing stem cells (red).


Baron Victor von Frankenstein would have admired the bounty of body parts scientists crafted in the lab this year.

Lab-grown lumps of liver, bits of brain and clumps of heart, kidney and retinal cells can now mimic the functions of organs grown the old-fashioned way.

Scientists have no plans to assemble a monster, of course. Artificial organs may instead one day help repair or even replace a person’s damaged tissues. But that day is still many years away, says retinal cell researcher Robin Ali of University College London. “Making a neuron in a dish is exciting, but it’s not a therapy,” he says. 

In the last few years, researchers have learned how to turn embryonic stem cells into all sorts of different cell types, such as skin cells, heart

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