The specialists working under the guidance of Professor Vincent Pask are from the Catholic University of Leuven.
The new cells closely resemble their natural counterparts in early-stage human embryos. That way, researchers can better study what happens right after the embryo implants in the womb.
When all is well, this happens about seven days after fertilization. At this point, the embryo becomes unavailable for research due to technical and ethical limitations. This led scientists to develop models of different types of embryonic and extraembryonic cells to study human development in a test tube.
The Leuven team created the first model of extraembryonic mesodermal cells. “They generate the blood in an embryo, help attach it to the future placenta and play a role in the formation of the primitive umbilical cord. In humans, this type of cell appears at an earlier stage of development than in mouse embryos, and there may also be other important differences between species. This makes our model particularly important: studies in mice may not give us answers that apply to humans,” explains study leader Vincent Pasque.
He says, “We are very excited because now we can study processes that normally remain inaccessible during development.”
The Belgian scientists hope that, in the longer term, their discovery will help shed more light on medical challenges such as fertility problems, miscarriages, and developmental disorders.
The development was published in the specialized publication “Sel stem sell”.