Scientists Grow ‘Model’ Human Embryos From Stem Cells

This undated handout photograph released by The University of Cambridge on June 11, 2020, shows a scan of a model embryos scientists created using human stem cells. – Scientists have developed a human embryo “blueprint” using human stem cells, in a breakthrough that could provide vital insight into the early stages of infant development, new research showed June 11, 2020. Teams from the University of Cambridge and the Netherlands-based Hubrecht Institute said their model will allow them to observe never-seen-before processes underlying the formation of the human body. Naomi Moris / University of Cambridge.


Scientists have developed a human embryo “blueprint” using human stem cells, in a breakthrough that could provide vital insight into the early stages of infant development, new research showed Thursday.

Teams from the University of Cambridge and the Netherlands-based Hubrecht Institute said their model will allow them to observe never-before-seen processes underlying the formation of the human body.

The layout of humans — known as the body plan — happens through a process known as gastrulation, where three distinct layers of cells are formed in the embryo that will later give rise to the body’s three main systems: nervous, musculoskeletal and digestive.

Gastrulation is known as the “black box” period of human development as legal restrictions prevent scientists from developing embryos in the lab beyond 14 days.

The team behind the study, published in Nature, said their model resembles an embryo between 18 and 21 days old, around the same time as gastrulation occurs.

Many birth defects happen during this period, and a better understanding of gastrulation could aid our understanding of issues such as infertility, miscarriage and genetic disorders, the researchers said.

“Our model produces part of the blueprint of a human,” said lead author Alfonso Martinez-Arias, from Cambridge’s Department of Genetics.

“It’s exciting to witness the developmental processes that until now have been hidden from view — and from study.”

To create the three-dimensional models, known as gastruloids, the team collected tight bundles of human cells and treated them with chemicals that acted as signals to activate certain genes.

It is the first time, the researchers said, that human stem cells have been used to create a 3D model human embryo, after some trials using stem cells from mice and zebra fish.

The scientists stressed that gastruloids never develop into fully formed embryos because they have no brain cells and lack any of the tissues for implantation in the womb.

Nevertheless, they were able to observe around 72 hours of the models’ development and identify clear signs of the events that lead to the formation of muscles, bone and cartilage.

Jeremy Green, a professor of developmental biology at King’s College London, said the study was a “fantastic window” into the early formation of the human body.

“(It) highlights the amazing power of self-organisation of cells and tissues given the right conditions,” added Green, who was not involved in the research.


Japan Trial To Treat Spinal Cord Injuries With Stem Cells

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A team of Japanese researchers will carry out an unprecedented trial using a kind of stem cell to try to treat debilitating spinal cord injuries, the specialists said on Monday.

The team at Tokyo’s Keio University has received government approval for a trial using so-called induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) cells — which have the potential to develop into any cell in the body — to treat patients with serious spinal cord injuries.

The trial, expected to begin later this year, will initially focus on four patients who suffered their injuries just 14 to 28 days beforehand, the university said.

The team will transplant two million iPS cells into the spines of the patients, who will then go through rehabilitation and be monitored for a year.

The strict limitations on the number of participants is necessary because the process is an “unprecedented, world first clinical trial”, the university added.

“It’s been 20 years since I started researching cell treatment. Finally we can start a clinical trial,” Hideyuki Okano, a professor of physiology, said at a press conference.

“We want to do our best to establish safety and provide the treatment to patients,” he added.

The study will be carried out on patients aged 18 or older who have completely lost their motor and sensory functions.

There are more than 100,000 patients in Japan who are paralysed due to spinal cord injuries but there is no effective treatment.

The primary purpose of the trial is to confirm the safety of the transplanted cells and the method of the transplant, the researchers said.

The research team hopes to test the efficacy and safety of the treatment for chronic injuries as well in the future if they can confirm the safety of the technique through the clinical trial.

The announcement comes after researchers in Kyoto said in November they had transplanted iPS cells into the brain of a patient in a bid to cure Parkinson’s disease.

The man was stable after the operation and he will be monitored for two years.

The researchers injected 2.4 million iPS cells into the left side of the patient’s brain in an operation that took about three hours.

Parkinson’s disease is a chronic, degenerative neurological disorder that affects the body’s motor system, often causing shaking and other difficulties in movement.

iPS cells are created by stimulating mature, already specialised, cells back into a juvenile state — basically cloning without the need for an embryo.

The cells can be transformed into a range of different types of cells, and their use is a key sector of medical research.

Stem cell experts, John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka win Nobel Prize for medicine

Two pioneers of stem cell research, Professor John Gurdon from the UK and Professor Shinya Yamanaka from Japan, have shared the Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology.

The two were awarded the prize for transforming specialised cells into stem cells, which can become any other type of cell in the body.

The Nobel committee said they had “revolutionised” science.

Prof Gurdon used a gut sample to clone frogs and Prof Yamanaka altered genes to re-programme cells.

In 1962, John Gurdon took the genetic information from a cell in the intestines of a frog and placed it inside a frog egg, which developed into a normal tadpole.

Shinya Yamanaka showed that specialised mouse cells could be reprogrammed to become stem cells by introducing four genes. The resulting stem cells could then be converted to other types of cell.

The Nobel committee said the discovery had “revolutionized our understanding of how cells and organisms develop.