What happens to an embryo after implantation?

What happens to an embryo after implantation?
What happens to an embryo after implantation?

What happens after a human embryo implants itself in the womb? With lab-grown embryonic cells, Belgian scientists hope to be able to answer this question.

In 2022 you would think that we already have all knowledge about the embryonic development of humans. But that’s a misconception. Scientists are still busy unraveling the mysteries of the entire process.

To map embryonic development, researchers make use of cells grown in the lab, among other things. Scientists from KU Leuven are doing their part: they were the first to develop so-called extra-embryonic mesoderm cells. As a result, they can now better study what happens just after an embryo implants in the womb, the team writes Cell Stem Cell.

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Embryo from the lab

Of course, the development of an embryo starts with an egg and a sperm that fuse together. After fertilization, the egg begins to divide. About five days later, this clump of cells travels through the uterus, dividing, until it reaches its final destination on the uterine wall around the seventh day. Implantation then takes place. From that moment on, scientists are prohibited from examining the embryo due to technical but above all ethical restrictions.

The solution for now is cells grown in the lab that allow scientists to study human development in a dish. The Belgian researchers made their model cells from human stem cells that can still develop into all cell types in an embryo.

Mesoderm cells

“We added certain substances that activate or inhibit different developmental pathways in order to steer stem cells in the direction of specific cell types,” says researcher Bradley Balaton of KU Leuven when asked. “These substances mimic the different signals normally encountered during development. In this way, we unexpectedly discovered a method to make extra-embryonic mesoderm cells for the first time.”

The extraembryonic mesoderm generates the first blood cells, attaches the embryo to the placenta and forms part of the primitive umbilical cord. Balaton: “Extra-embryonic mesoderm is first encountered at a developmental stage in which fertility problems often occur. Therefore, we believe that a better understanding of this cell type, its origin and function will contribute to better fertility treatments and decrease the frequency of developmental disorders.”

“You don’t make a new human cell type every day,” said lead researcher Vincent Pasque. “We are very excited because we can now study processes that would normally remain inaccessible during development.”

Sources: Cell Stem Cell, KU Leuven

Image: Amitesh Panda

The article is in Dutch

Tags: embryo implantation

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