The Cambridge University team, led by Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz to develop their embryo model, did not use eggs or sperm but stem cells that can develop into almost any cell type in the body.
Researchers in Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz's lab mimicked natural processes, driving the three types of stem cells, present in early mammalian development to the point where they begin to interact: inducing the expression of a particular set of genes and establishing a unique environment for their interactions, they were able to make the stem cells talk to each other.
The stem cells self-assembled into structures that progressed through the later stages of development until they had the beating heart and bases of the brain, as well as the yolk sac where the embryo develops and from which it receives nutrients in the first weeks.
The embryonic models developed by the Cambridge University team, unlike other synthetic embryos, have reached the point where the entire brain, including the anterior part, began to develop. This is a further development point than any other stem cell-derived model.
The study was published in the journal Nature, the team of researchers said their findings are the result of more than a decade of research that has progressively led to more and more complex embryo-like structures, could help researchers understand why some embryos become more complex. they spoil while others develop into a healthy pregnancy. Furthermore, the findings could be used to guide the correction and development of synthetic human organs for transplantation.
Our mouse embryo model not only develops a brain, but also a beating heart, all of which make up the body. It is incredible to have come this far, this has been the dream of our scientific community for years and one of the main objectives of our work for a decade, and in the end we did it.
The same research group in 2017 obtained the first synthetic embryo from embryonic stem cells. Even then it was a mouse embryo, but it was unable to go through all stages of development.
The big difference, compared to 2017, is in the fact that the researchers managed to make the cells talk to each other, so that they assembled spontaneously, without the need for external stimuli.
The embryo has developed for eight and a half days, giving rise to a complex and differentiated structure that includes certain regions of the brain, the neural tube that gives rise to the nervous system, a structure similar to a heart capable of beating and an other similar to the intestine. Meanwhile, reports the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the same research group is working on a human embryo model similar to that of a mouse just obtained and the goal is to be able to understand crucial steps in embryonic development otherwise impossible to observe in real human embryos.
If in the future the technique tested in mice is also successful with human stem cells, the researchers say, it will be possible to build organs for transplants for patients on the waiting list in the laboratory.