World’s first ever ‘synthetic embryos’ have been created. According to a study published in a journal, Israeli researchers developed a mouse embryo with a beating heart using just stem cells.
By utilizing solely stem cells from mouse skin, Israeli researchers have produced “synthetic embryos” for the first time ever without requiring sperm or egg cells.
The groundbreaking research, the findings of which were disclosed this week in the peer-reviewed journal Cell, found stem cells obtained from mice “self-assemble” into an embryo-like form with a digestive tract, brain, and even a beating heart.
The outcomes were truly “remarkable,” in the words of cell biologist Professor Jacob Hanna of the Weizmann Institute of Science. “There was no sperm, no egg and no uterus, but we managed to get embryos formed from stem cells alone to eight days – a third of the gestation period of a mouse – with a beating heart,” he told Times of Israel.
According to him, this is the first instance of a highly developed animal embryo being created only from stem cells.
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Hanna told the Times that the work might make it possible to develop artificial structures that resemble embryos for use in medicine, such as developing human organs for transplant. “The embryo is the best organ-making machine and the best 3D bioprinter; we tried to emulate what it does,” he explained.
The ethical use of human embryos as a source of stem cells for the growth of transplant organs has generated debate, but the new research, according to the research team, may provide a workaround because the artificial embryo-like structures are similar to real embryos but aren’t viable for implantation.
Using a unique incubator setup, the scientists were able to grow an embryo. Each embryo in the device bathes in a liquid-filled vial that is rotating to prevent the organism from sticking to the side. The liquid acts as a nutrient solution while the incubator supplies the embryo with the necessary circumstances for development, including the required gas concentration, pressure, and temperature.
The latest experiment expands on two earlier triumphs that were made by scientists in earlier years. In particular, Hanna’s team had created a technique for reprogramming stem cells to return to the very beginning of development, when they had the greatest potential to play various roles. Additionally, scientists have developed a tool that enables them to grow normal mouse embryos outside of the womb.