Novel technology of developing embryos have applications in treatment of infertility or genetic diseases by understanding the early days of life
Researchers from the MERLN Institute and the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands developed new technique, which can skip the step of egg and a sperm fusion and directly grow model mouse embryos by combining stem cells. In the first few days after fertilization, the developing embryo takes the form of a blastocyst, a hollow sphere containing a small cluster of less than 100 cells. The inner cells are the beginnings of the embryo itself, while the outer shell will become the placenta.
As a part of the study stem cell lines from these two components were grown in the culture and allowed to multiply. Furthermore, they were combined in artificial environments to examine the communication and formation of the spherical shape. Newly formed artificial blastocysts were named as ‘blastoids.’ Moreover, successfully developed blastoids were able to implant into uterus resulting into pregnancy. Although research team was not able to produce viable embryos, the project was able to teach the researchers more about the murky early stages of development, including the fact that the inner cells dictate the growth of the outer ones.
“It is the embryonic cells that instruct the placental cells how to organize and to implant in utero,” said Nicolas Rivron, lead researcher on the team. “By understanding this molecular conversation, we open new perspectives to solve problems of infertility, contraception, or the adult diseases that are initiated by small flaws in the embryo. Our research helps to understand the perfect path an early embryo must take for a healthy development.” Furthermore, scientist are working on growing large numbers of model embryos to study effect of environmental factors on development and disease, without needing to experiment on animals. The study was published in the journal Nature in May 2018.