For the first time, researchers have successfully built an artificial embryo-like structure from stem cells. This breakthrough was achieved by combining mouse embryonic stem cells (ESCs; which give rise to the embryo proper) with trophoblast stem cells (TSCs; which form the placenta) around a 3D scaffold. The resulting artificial embryo (pictured, left, with ESCs in red and TSCs in blue), mimicked the development of a natural mouse embryo (on the right), though it would not eventually produce a viable foetus. As a technically difficult and ethically-sensitive field of study, the first stages of embryonic development are relatively poorly-understood. Artificial embryos present an opportunity for more extensive research on early human development, which currently relies on donations from IVF clinics. Already demonstrating that communication between ESCs and TSCs is crucial for embryonic development, this system could ultimately be used to help us understand why problems occur during pregnancy.
Written by Emmanuelle Briolat
BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences (the new name for the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre) the website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biomedicine. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.