Embryo-like structure synthesized in a lab could help decipher infertility

Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types. Now, using mouse...

Posted: May 3, 2018 6:25 PM
Updated: May 3, 2018 6:25 PM

Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types. Now, using mouse stem cells instead of the usual sperm and egg, scientists have created a structure like a blastocyst -- an early embryo.

"What we did is, for the first time, we managed to promote the self-organization of stem cells into a very early embryo in a dish -- so everything happened in the lab," said Nicolas Rivron, lead author of the new study and a biologist, engineer and assistant professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

Scientists used two types of stem cells to create a blastocyst-like structure

It will allow scientists to learn more about embryo implantation

The research was published Wednesday in the international science journal Nature.

'Human pregnancies are very inefficient'

To achieve this scientific feat, Rivron and his team combined embryonic stem cells, which have the potential to form a whole embryo, with 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," Rivron said. He added that, for the first time, these very early embryos were able to implant in the uterus of a mouse when transferred.

Rivron said his research "has applications in many different fields, though we are especially interested in the field of infertility and the field of chronic disease."

It will allow scientists to learn more about the poorly understood processes of embryo implantation.

"It has been very difficult to understand how [cells] organize in those very early days," Rivron said. This moment of human development is shrouded in mystery because almost all women don't even know that they are pregnant at this early stage. Additionally, somewhere between 30% and 60% of embryos fail to implant in humans due to age or unknown factors.

"Human pregnancies are very inefficient, and in the most extreme cases, this is leading to infertility, where people just cannot have a child," Rivron said.

The study points to other practical applications, he said, including pharmaceutical research.

'Precious and scarce'

"Because embryos are so precious and scarce, it is almost impossible to test new medicines on them," Rivron said. "You would need typically huge numbers of embryos in order to test medicines in the proper way. Here, because we are using stem cells, we can generate an infinite number of early embryos."

Can his process be replicated in other mammals?

"This is the question that is being asked now," Rivron said. If so, it could be very useful to save endangered species, he said.

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," said Zernicka-Goetz, who was not involved in the research but has similarly replicated embryonic development using stem cells.

Of the new study, she said, "the resulting structures look like blastocysts and are undertaking some events seen in blastocysts before they mature. However, these blastocyst-like structures do not continue to develop and undertake the events of post-implantation development."

She believes there are two important goals that neither her own study or the new study 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," Zernicka-Goetz said. "Second, to show that these structures can truly implant and develop further."

In short, the next big scientific challenge would be to make "synthetic blastocysts with greater developmental potential," she said.

Experiments using stem cells are among the most controversial in biological research. Rivron said that although he will create and study mouse embryos using this method, he will not create human embryos.

Noting that such research is not permitted in most countries, he said, "at the moment, it is really a question of: What is going to be the benefit to our society?"

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 312521

Reported Deaths: 5498
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion42641849
Lake27152455
Allen18010298
Elkhart17177221
St. Joseph16799229
Hamilton13011167
Vanderburgh9751120
Tippecanoe858727
Porter827986
Johnson6389165
Hendricks6098157
Vigo608384
Monroe536750
Clark515077
Madison5060122
Delaware4905103
LaPorte465595
Kosciusko462339
Howard344277
Warrick325672
Bartholomew316863
Floyd316277
Wayne307770
Cass299931
Marshall299144
Grant272550
Noble255046
Hancock253852
Henry247537
Boone244554
Dubois237931
Dearborn219030
Jackson215534
Morgan210843
Knox187819
Gibson186925
Shelby182155
Clinton180321
DeKalb177831
Lawrence177648
Adams168222
Miami162614
Wabash162521
Daviess156443
Fayette149234
Steuben147113
Jasper144412
Harrison142924
LaGrange142630
Montgomery142127
Whitley137114
Ripley132115
Huntington127410
Decatur126143
Putnam124627
Randolph124519
Wells124429
White123222
Clay122523
Posey122116
Jefferson118816
Scott109020
Greene102653
Jay99013
Sullivan96416
Starke92021
Jennings85314
Fulton84518
Spencer8378
Perry82521
Fountain7798
Washington7527
Franklin69927
Carroll68613
Orange67328
Vermillion6243
Owen6087
Tipton57627
Parke5706
Newton56312
Rush5438
Blackford53412
Pike50919
Pulaski39515
Martin3585
Brown3424
Benton3402
Crawford2941
Union2702
Switzerland2575
Warren2382
Ohio2317
Unassigned0266

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 382743

Reported Deaths: 6274
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin51161671
Cuyahoga37222743
Hamilton30493372
Montgomery20518236
Butler15199148
Lucas14566417
Summit13933327
Stark9193206
Warren841976
Mahoning7530300
Lake710067
Lorain6690106
Clermont593651
Delaware572537
Licking564577
Trumbull5584147
Fairfield554464
Greene538066
Clark5218101
Allen494989
Marion476759
Medina471657
Wood4598107
Miami437568
Pickaway404048
Portage358972
Columbiana357698
Tuscarawas342667
Richland328539
Wayne327394
Mercer296047
Muskingum252510
Hancock245940
Ross244559
Auglaize236435
Darke232560
Erie230268
Putnam229449
Ashtabula228354
Geauga211851
Scioto200616
Union19668
Shelby194017
Lawrence193039
Athens19134
Seneca182919
Belmont170229
Madison163119
Sandusky157729
Preble156521
Huron155519
Defiance144823
Holmes140439
Logan133517
Knox131718
Fulton128726
Jefferson128613
Crawford126817
Washington125227
Ottawa124530
Clinton109115
Williams10799
Ashland107825
Highland103718
Brown10135
Henry101323
Hardin99719
Champaign9825
Van Wert97318
Jackson96212
Fayette92717
Morrow9202
Guernsey89314
Coshocton85215
Perry82912
Adams80313
Pike7661
Gallia76513
Wyandot73217
Paulding66511
Hocking64516
Noble62224
Carroll48810
Meigs39612
Monroe32321
Morgan2685
Vinton2246
Harrison2193
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 41°
Angola
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 39°
Huntington
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 36°
Feels Like: 40°
Decatur
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 42°
Van Wert
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 38°
Feels Like: 42°
Cloudy Thanksgiving
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events