Artificial embryos made without sperm or eggs may lead to fertility treatment

Stem cells are unspecialized cells that can be manipulated into mature cells with specific functions.

“Our mouse embryo model not only develops a brain, but also a beating heart, all the elements that make up the body,” said the study’s lead author, a professor at the University of Mammalian Development and Stem Cell Biology. said Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, professor at of Cambridge, England.

“It is unbelievable how far we have come. This has been a dream of our community for many years, a major focus of our work for 10 years and it has finally come true. .”

The paper is an exciting breakthrough and addresses the challenges facing scientists studying mammalian embryos in utero, says Biology Professor at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Marianne Bronner said. Bronner was not involved in this study.

“Because they occur outside of the mother, we can easily visualize important developmental stages that were previously difficult to access,” added Bronner.

Zernicka-Goetz said researchers hope to move from mouse embryos to creating models of natural human pregnancy, but many fail at an early stage.

By observing embryos in the lab rather than in the womb, scientists have been able to better understand why some pregnancies fail and the process to learn how to prevent it, she added.

So far, researchers have only been able to track the development of mouse synthetic embryos for about eight days, but the process is improving and researchers have already learned a lot, said the study’s authors. said Gianluca Amadei, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge.

“This reveals the basic requirements that must be met to create the correct structure of an embryo with organs,” Zernika Goetz said.

As it stands, the research doesn’t apply to humans, and “a high degree of refinement is needed for this to be truly useful,” says Gladstone Institute for Cardiovascular Diseases Institute director and senior research fellow at Gladstone. One Benoit Bruno said. Institute. Bruno was not involved in the research.

But researchers see important uses in the future. The process is ready for testing new drugs, Zernicka-Goetz said. But in the long term, as scientists move from artificial mouse embryos to human embryo models, it could also help build artificial organs for people in need of transplants, Zernicka-Goetz said. added.

“We believe this study is the first of its kind,” said study author David Glover, a research professor of biology and biotechnology at the California Institute of Technology.

how they did it

Studies show that three types of stem cells are required for embryo formation in the womb.

In Zernicka-Goetz’s lab, researchers isolated three types of stem cells from embryos, collected them and cultured them in vessels angled to promote cross-talk between them.

Day by day, she said, they could see groups of cells forming into more and more complex structures.

Zernicka-Goetz said there are ethical and legal considerations to address before transitioning to human artificial embryos. And it could be decades before researchers can perform similar processes in human models, he said, due to the differences in complexity between mouse and human embryos.

But in the meantime, Zernicka-Goetz said, information learned from mouse models could help “correct dysfunctional tissues and organs.”

mystery of human life

The early weeks after fertilization consist of these three different stem cells communicating with each other chemically and mechanically to allow the embryo to develop properly, the study says.

Zernicka-Goetz, who is also a professor of biology and biotechnology at the California Institute of Technology, said: “This period is the foundation of everything that follows a pregnancy. If this doesn’t work, the pregnancy will fail.”

But by this stage, embryos created by in vitro fertilization have already been implanted into the parent, giving scientists limited visibility into the process the embryo is going through, Zernicka-Goetz said. rice field.

They were able to develop the foundations of the brain – the first of such models, said Glover, “the holy grail of the field.”

“This period of human life is so mysterious. So you can see how it happens in a dish, and you have access to these individual stem cells and why so many pregnancies fail.” What’s happening is very special,” Zernicka-Goetz said in a press release. “At the time, there were different types of stem cells. We looked at the dialogue that had to take place between them, showing how it could happen and how it could go wrong.”


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