Good News for Kermit — and, Maybe, Humans

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Blind and deaf frogs everywhere — and, maybe, humans — got a piece of good news this weekend when Japanese researchers announced they had successfully grown frog eyes and ears in a Tokyo laboratory. It took the sensory organs about five days to emerge from a carefully cultivated soup of the frogs' own embryonic stem cells during the groundbreaking experiment, which may provide data that will someday allow scientists to grow sensory organs for humans. The scientists who grew the frog eyes and ears claim to be the first to have done so; this team had previously transplanted lab-grown kidneys into frogs, which is considered a far simpler procedure.

These experiments, which scientists caution are not necessarily indicative of future success in human subjects, could usher in a new era of organ transplants, giving hope to people whose sensory organs have been damaged or lost. While scientists have already used human cells to grow skin in labs, the generation of eyes and ears is a more complex and multi-faceted challenge, in part because of the complexity of those organs. But in the long run, scientists say, it's possible that human cells could someday be used to grow replacement parts — thus diminishing the dependence on human donors and, because the parts are made from the patients' own cells, ending the problems of organ incompatibility and rejection.