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Scientist Used Embryonic Stem Cells to Generate Model Human Embryo
Cell Biology

Scientist Used Embryonic Stem Cells to Generate Model Human Embryo

3-D mode of human embryo created from stem cells, the image shows the symmetry breaking in embryo at developmental stage
Credit: Mijo Simunovic, Ph.D., Simons Junior Fellow, The Rockefeller University

No one can deny the importance of stem cells in biological sciences. The wide applications of stem cells have led to many life-saving discoveries. Recently, another benchmark has been set up by researchers, who used embryonic stem cells to generate a three dimensional model of the human embryo.

The findings can provide a better understanding of human embryonic development. It can be used to deal with complex conditions like infertility and miscarriages, developmental birth defects and more.

Why Is It A Breakthrough?

This is the first time that scientists have created a three dimensional model of a human embryo using embryonic stem cells. Moreover, the model generated is far more complex than the earlier available models. The reason for this is the unique property of altered symmetry observed in the embryo models. The scientist supports the findings saying, the application of BMP4 (Bone Morphogenesis Protein 4) causes altered symmetry in embryo models. Where initially the embryos have rounded ball-like structure, the addition of BMP4 breaks the symmetry into a structure with extended anterior & posterior developments.

Though the research has given better insights for the development of a 3-D model of human embryos, it also raises questions for symmetry breaking in embryoids. The findings have led to a new path for scientists to unfold the mystery behind human existence.

The Experimental Findings

To carry out the experiment, scientist used human embryonic stem cells placed in the hydrogel on a Petri-dish. The stem cells were attached to the scaffold systems such as extracellular matrix to provide the necessary support for cells to grow in a structured manner. It was found that the embryonic stem cells arranged themselves into a ball-shaped structure similar to that of a human embryo at the epiblast stage.

Epiblast is one of the dermal layers which arise from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst; this stage is known as the epiblast stage. It gives rise to other dermal layers such as ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm.

Scientist found that application of BMP4 to the embryonic stem cells at this stage showed the development of anterior and posterior polarity. Along with this, it also promoted signs of primitive streak formation, responsible for the formation of midline development in embryos.

Are There Any Ethical Concerns?

Presently, ethical guidelines for stem cells research lays down the 14-day policy, wherein scientist can work on real human embryos for not more than 14 days. The recent discovery raises many questions and challenges for an ethical committee to look into the guidelines again.

Way Ahead

The discovery is a benchmark in the field of developmental biology. For many decades scientist are trying to understand the structural modification and development of an embryo into a foetus. But since the process occurs in the womb of female it was quite difficult to unfold the pattern of structural modifications in the embryo. The 3-D model of a human embryo from stem cells gives rise to a new ray of hope. It allows the researchers to dive into the world of developmental biology all over again but to a greater depth.

No doubt there will be ethical questions when it comes to using human embryos for experimental purposes. However, the use of stem cells to create embryos rather than sperm and egg can be a game-changer for scientists. Let’s see in future what steps will be taken by the ethical committee with respect to research like this.

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