Dutch Scientists created “synthetic” embryo for the first time in their laboratory from mouse stem cells instead of the usual sperm or egg.
Using mouse cells that weren’t gametes (the traditional sex cells), researchers from the MERLN Institute for Technology-Inspired Regenerative Medicine in the Netherlands were able to create “blastocyst-like structures”— the early stage embryo.
Nicolas Rivron, lead author of the new study and a biologist, engineer and assistant professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands said,
“This is the first time we have created structures in the lab from stem cells which have the potential to form the whole organism – the baby, placenta and yolk sac.”
To achieve this, Rivron and his team combined embryonic stem cells, which have the potential to form a whole embryo and trophoblast stem cells, which have the potential to form a placenta. Without a placenta, which attaches the embryo to the uterine wall, an embryo cannot develop into a fetus.
“We pulled them together and discovered a cocktail of molecules that triggered them to self-organize into early embryo cells.”
He added that, for the first time, these very early embryos were able to implant in the uterus of a mouse when transferred.
The research was published in the international science journal Nature which describes this stem cell breakthrough is not for cloning people or animals, but about understanding why many pregnancies fail at an early stage – implantation.
Many miscarriages occur before a woman is even aware she is pregnant when the fertilized egg does not manage to implant in the womb.
Experts do not fully understand why this occurs, although it is likely to be linked to abnormalities in the growing embryo. It is very difficult to understand how cells develop in those early days. Using stem cells, rather than sperm and eggs, it could help in supply for scientific research.
Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, a professor of mammalian development and stem cell biology at the University of Cambridge, said
“The new study is an excellent beginning. It is an important step toward generating “blastocyst-like structures.”
Though, she was not involved in the research with Rivron but has similarly replicated embryonic development using stem cells in her own study.
She believes there are two important goals that neither her own study or the new study of Rivron has achieved. First, is to develop structures that contain all three cell layers normally present in the embryo by combining three types of stem cells. Second, is to show that these structures can truly implant and develop further.”
However, at the moment the Dutch scientists do not know why their own newly created blastocysts are not developing further. The ones they have managed to create are equivalent to just 3.5 days old.
Professor Rivron said,
“We actually don’t know. They look extremely similar to normal blastocysts and generate many cell types. However, the cells are not properly organized – they look like a disorganized embryo.”
Now, the question arises “Can his process be replicated in other mammals?”
If yes, it could be useful to save endangered species in the future.