‘Synthetic’ embryo with brain and beating heart grown from multiple stem cells
Published in Tech News, Theories & Scenarios, Tools.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge have created model embryos from mouse stem cells that form a brain, a beating heart, and the foundations of all the other organs of the body — a new avenue for recreating the first stages of life.
The team, led by Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, developed the embryo model without eggs or sperm, and instead used stem cells — the body’s master cells, which can develop into almost any cell type in the body.
The researchers mimicked natural processes in the lab by guiding the three types of stem cells found in early mammalian development to the point where they start interacting. By inducing the expression of a particular set of genes and establishing a unique environment for their interactions, the researchers were able to get the stem cells to ‘talk’ to each other.
The stem cells self-organised into structures that progressed through the successive developmental stages until they had beating hearts and the foundations of the brain, as well as the yolk sac where the embryo develops and gets nutrients from in its first weeks. Unlike other synthetic embryos, the Cambridge-developed models reached the point where the entire brain, including the anterior portion, began to develop. This is a further point in development than has been achieved in any other stem cell-derived model.