A team of scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science has reached the holy grail in the field of embryonic development research: they've grown mouse embryos outside a uterus.
The team's achievements hope to provide scientists with a better understanding of the developmental stages in genetics, as well as offering a stronger insight into the birth and developmental defects, and why some miscarriages happen during the early stages of pregnancy.
The team's findings were published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, March 17.
The seven-year-long research led the team to develop a two-step process that enabled it to grow mouse embryos outside the uterus for six days — approximately a third of their usual 20 day gestation period.
By the time the six days were up, the embryos were already decently developed, with well-defined bodies and visible organs.
Up until now, the early stages of the embryonic development process have mostly been a mystery to scientists, so this study opens many doors for future research and better understanding of the process.
Human embryos could be next
In a parallel study also published in Nature on Wednesday, March 17, another team of scientists modeled an early human embryo from skin cells.
This research, carried out by a team of international scientists led by Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, will help to better understand the causes of early miscarriage, infertility, as well as early human development.
The team managed to reprogram fibroblasts, or skin cells, into a 3D cellular structure that is similar to human blastocysts. The team's called its new structures iBlastoids, which can be used to model human embryos in the lab.
"iBlastoids will allow scientists to study the very early steps in human development and some of the causes of infertility, congenital diseases and the impact of toxins and viruses on early embryos - without the use of human blastocysts and, importantly, at an unprecedented scale, accelerating our understanding and the development of new therapies," Professor Jose Polo of Monash University said.
The next steps of these studies will include new guidelines for the ethical conduct of this type of work. Once those are outlined, this type of research will be able to hugely benefit scientists' understanding of humans' early developmental stages.