An international team of scientists led by Cambridge University has managed to make embryo-like structures using stem cells from mice. The new research could lead to the creation of artificial human embryos to help researchers gain a better understanding of the earliest stages of human fetal development.
The study expands on previous work by the team that developed a much more simple structure using only two stem cells. The current investigation used three stem cells, which allowed for a critical process known as gastrulation to occur. During this stage, a single layer of cells is transformed into multiple layers of cells that give rise to specific parts of an organism.
“Our artificial embryos underwent the most important event in life in the culture dish,” said study lead author Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz. “They are now extremely close to real embryos.”
According to Professor Zernicka-Goetz, the interaction between three stem cells will provide the team with better insight into embryo development. Furthermore, altering biological pathways in one cell type will reveal any impacts on the behavior of other cell types.
“The early stages of embryo development are when a large proportion of pregnancies are lost and yet it is a stage that we know very little about,” said Professor Zernicka-Goetz.
“Now we have a way of simulating embryonic development in the culture dish, so it should be possible to understand exactly what is going on during this remarkable period in an embryo’s life, and why sometimes this process fails.”
The new research could ultimately shed new light on why embryos fail to implant in the womb, which is one of the leading causes of infertility.\
“Now we have a way of simulating embryonic development in the culture dish,” said Professor Zernicka-Goetz. “So it should be possible to understand exactly what is going on during this remarkable period in an embryo’s life, and why sometimes this process fails.”
The study is published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.