Early life illuminated in 3D

Researchers at Rockefeller University in the US have used stem cells to create a 3D model of early embryonic tissues, allowing them to simulate developmental processes as they occur in time and space. 

Writing in the journal Nature Cell Biology, they say they hope this tool will make it possible to further elucidate the processes that guide embryonic growth, and ultimately lead to innovations that promote healthy pregnancies.

Ali Brivanlou and Eric Siggia developed the concept of using stem cells to model early embryonic development in 2014, but say they always knew their system was limited. Conventional stem cell models are 2D and don’t take on the actual shape of an embryo, prohibiting researchers from asking key questions related to its structure.

Now, with colleague Mijo Simunovic, they have used an interdisciplinary approach to develop a 3D model simulating human embryo at about 14 days old – the stage at which a key milestone of embryonic development called “gastrulation” takes place.

“We combined several techniques – bioengineering, physics, and developmental biology – to create this model,” says Simunovic. “We now have a 3D system that mimics not only the embryo’s genetic fingerprint, but also its shape and size.”

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