Vital new insight into early days of embryos

April 16th, 2012

Pioneering work by a leading University of Nottingham scientist has helped reveal a vital process in the development of the early mammalian embryo.

A team led by Professor of Tissue Engineering, Kevin Shakesheff, has created a unique soft polymer bowl which mimics the mammalian uterus. This allows embryos, for the first time, to be grown outside of a mother’s body, using a mouse model, for long enough to observe in real time growth during a crucial stage between the fourth and eighth days.

Prof Shakesheff said: “We have been able to give our research colleagues a previously unseen view of the incredible behaviour of cells at this vital stage of an embryo’s development. We hope this work will unlock further secrets which could improve medical treatments that require tissues to regenerate and also open up more opportunities to improve IVF. We hope to develop more technologies which will allow developmental biologists to understand how our tissue forms.”

In the past it has only been possible to culture a fertilised egg for four days. Scientists’ knowledge of events at a cellular level after four days, when, to survive, the blastocyst has to implant into the womb, has been limited.

Now, thanks to the University’s work, scientists at Cambridge University have been able to observe and record aspects of embryo development after four days.

This breakthrough is part of a major research effort at Nottingham to learn how the development of the embryo can teach us how to repair the adult body. The work is led by Prof Shakesheff, in collaboration with scientists led by Prof Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz at Cambridge University, with prestigious funding from European Research Council.

Prof Shakesheff added: “With weeks of the embryo forming all of the major tissues and organs are formed and starting to function. If we could harness this remarkable ability of the human body to self-form then we could design new medical treatments that cure diseases that are currently untreatable.”

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