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Human neurons grown in the brains of mice

uch the same signals in mice as in humans—if not all mammals. Previous development or "differentiation" studies of stem cells into the various cell types of the body have been done primarily in laboratory dishes.

Researchers now hope to discover how brain disorders develop out of the mysterious interaction of neurons and their surroundings.

The question is whether a diseased environment influences nondiseased cells, or diseased cells hurt a healthy, intact environment.

In this context, two types of experiments are envisioned: Healthy human cells might be injected into animal brains carrying human-like genetic disorders; and cells carrying disease traits, perhaps derived through cloning techniques from cells of living patients, might be injected into normal animal brains.

Similarly, if a drug candidate is found, it might first be given to chimeric mice to study the drug's effect on human cells in a living system before proceeding to human trials.

The researchers said care was taken to ensure that the human-mouse brain experiments were done ethically and noted that the experimental design was approved in advance by an independent ethics review board sponsored by the Salk Institute.

Mice are routinely bred with human immune systems, but the nervous system is another matter. In this set of experiments, the important question is not whether the mice had human cells, but whether any human-like structures were beginning to grow in the mouse brain.


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