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Important but Unseen Human Embryo Developmental Stages Mimicked in Lab

 

Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

Scientists have created embryo-like structures that mimic a crucial yet not much known stage of human development. The structures, created from stem cells and called gastruloids, are the first to form a 3D assembly that lays out how the body will take shape. The gastruloids developed rudimentary components of a heart and nervous system, but lacked the components to form a brain and other cell types that would make them capable of becoming a viable fetus.

Human embryos take a momentous leap in their third week, when the largely homogeneous ball of cells starts to differentiate and develop specific characteristics of the body parts they will become, a process known as gastrulation. During this process, the embryo elongates and lays down a body plan with a head and tail, often called the head-to-tail axis. But scientists have never seen this process live in action. That is partly because many countries have regulations that stop embryos from being grown in the laboratory for research beyond 14 days.

Over the past years, several research groups have cultured embryonic stem-cell structures that model when cells start to differentiate. The latest model developed at the University of Cambridge, UK and their collaborators in the Netherlands, Showed for the first time what happens when the blueprint for the body’s development is laid out, around 18–21 days after conception. Genetic analysis showed that the cells formed were those that would eventually go on to form muscles in the trunk, vertebrae, heart and other organs.

If everything is done properly, the cells develop into 3D structures on their own — and then spontaneously mimic the gastrulation process. Although they display certain key features of a 21-day-old embryo, the gastruloids reach that stage after just 72 hours and survive for maximum 4 days before collapsing. Scientists will probably use the model to make structures that are even more realistic representations of early development.

The model could help scientists to understand the role of genetics and environmental factors in different disorders. The artificial structures make it possible to avoid ethical concerns about doing research on human embryos. But as the structures become more advanced and life-like, there may be ethical restrictions.

SOURCE

David Cyranoski

References for Original Study

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01757-z?utm_source=Nature+Briefing

 

Other References:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32528178/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22804578/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24973948/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27419872/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28179190/

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