Artificial 'embryo' to clear path for human version?

LONDON • Scientists in Britain have, for the first time, created a structure that resembles a mouse embryo using a 3D scaffold and two types of stem cells, which deepens understanding of the earliest stages of mammalian development.

Publishing their results in the journal Science, the team based at Cambridge University said while the artificial embryo closely resembled the real thing, it would be unlikely to develop further into a healthy mouse foetus.

But for research purposes, the scientists were able to show how the artificial embryo followed the same pattern of development as that of a normal embryo, with the stem cells organising themselves in the same way.

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz at Cambridge's department of physiology, development and neuroscience, which led the work, said the success with mouse cells should pave the way for similar work with human cells, helping scientists overcome a major barrier to human embryo research - a shortage of embryos.

Currently, human embryos for research are developed from surplus eggs donated through fertility clinics.

But Prof Zernicka-Goetz said it should be possible to use the stem cells and scaffold technique to make artificial human embryos for study in the future.

"This will allow us to study key events of this critical stage of human development without actually having to work on embryos," she said.

"(And) knowing how development normally occurs will allow us to understand why it so often goes wrong."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 04, 2017, with the headline 'Artificial 'embryo' to clear path for human version?'. Print Edition | Subscribe