In a laboratory, there is a tiny mouse embryo that has a beating heart. Your muscles, blood vessels, gut, and nervous system are beginning to develop. But this embryo is not what it seems … In fact, it has been generated by scientists in the laboratory, from mouse embryonic stem cells, and represents the most sophisticated in vitro model (in a Petri dish) of a mammal that it has been achieved until today.
This new model, developed at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in the United States by Christine and Bernard Thisse, is a major step forward in scientists’ efforts to emulate the natural development of a mammal through the use of stem cells. Its existence is a marvel that will help scientists to better understand the development of mammals, to fight various diseases, to create new drugs and, over time, to grow tissues and organs for people who need transplants.
“We have found a way to instruct stem cell aggregates to initiate embryonic development. In response to this controlled conditioning, the aggregates become embryo-like entities in a process that replicates embryonic steps one by one.” explains Christine Thisse. “What is surprising is that we can obtain the full range of tissues that are present in a true mouse embryo.”
What Christine and Bernard Thisse have created can be defined as an embryoid and stands out for its sophistication. It is the first in vitro model of a mammalian embryo with such a wide range of tissues that it is formed from stem cells, as the researchers emphasize. Most importantly, these structures are properly organized around the notochord (precursor to the spinal column), a defining trait of vertebrate animals.
A living, beating mouse heart, generated from stem cells. (Photo: Thisse lab, University of Virginia)
Stem cells are special cells that can develop into other types of cells with specific functions. Thus, stem cells become our heart, our brain, our bones, our nerves, and more. Therefore, scientists strive to harness the potential of stem cells to put them at the service of medical research and benefit patients.
The research team presents the technical details of its achievement in the academic journal Nature Communications, with the title “Construction of a mammalian embryo model from stem cells organized by a morphogen signaling center”. (Source: NCYT from Amazings)