- Embryonic Structures: Led by Prof Jacob Hanna from the Weizmann Institute in Israel, the team engineered these tiny tissue balls by merging stem cells. These cells then self-organized to replicate the 3D configuration of human embryos aged between one and two weeks. When two weeks old, these cell clusters were roughly half a millimetre wide.
- Applications: Though these structures aren’t exact replicas of human embryos, researchers are optimistic about their potential:
- They can provide insights into the earliest phases of human development.
- They can assist in understanding unknown causes of miscarriages.
- Model embryos might be cultivated from the skin cells of sick patients. As these models mature, they could begin to produce organs that may be a potential source for transplantation.
- Another significant application involves utilizing these models to evaluate the effects of medications on actual human embryos.
- Technique and Features: The study, published in Nature, detailed how scientists expanded upon procedures used last year to generate model mouse embryos. They mixed “naive” human stem cells, which can metamorphose into various cell types, resulting in around 1% of them forming complete embryo-like structures. These models then started developing a placenta, yolk sac, and an external membrane termed the chorionic sac.
- Limitations: The created embryos correspond to those about a week old and are nurtured in the lab for an additional week. Importantly, they cannot be utilized for pregnancies. Dr Peter Rugg-Gunn, from the Babraham Institute, mentioned that while the research was significant, it didn’t perfectly replicate every feature of early human embryos.
- Ethical Implications: The endeavor, along with other similar researches, raises ethical concerns. Discussions and assessments on the ethical aspects are currently ongoing at an international level and in the UK via the Governance of Stem Cell-Based Embryo Models project.
By achieving this feat, researchers have opened doors to a myriad of possibilities in the realm of medical research and potential treatments. However, the ethical considerations surrounding such advancements remain paramount.