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Artificial 'womb' unlocks secrets of early embryo development
Date:3/2/2012

Pioneering work by a leading University of Nottingham scientist has helped reveal for the first time a vital process in the development of the early mammalian embryo.

A team led by Professor of Tissue Engineering, Kevin Shakesheff, has created a new device in the form of a soft polymer bowl which mimics the soft tissue of the mammalian uterus in which the embryo implants. The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications.

This new laboratory culture method has allowed scientists to see critical aspects of embryonic development that have never been seen in this way before. For the first time it has been possible to grow embryos outside the body of the mother, using a mouse model, for just long enough to observe in real time processes of growth during a crucial stage between the fourth and eighth days of development.

Professor Shakesheff said: "Using our unique materials and techniques we have been able to give our research colleagues a previously unseen view of the incredible behaviour of cells at this vital stage of an embryo's development. We hope this work will unlock further secrets which could improve medical treatments that require tissues to regenerate and also open up more opportunities to improve IVF. In the future we hope to develop more technologies which will allow developmental biologists to understand how our tissue forms."

In the past it has only been possible to culture a fertilised egg for four days as it grows from a single cell into a blastocyst, a ball of 64 cells comprising stem cells which will form the body, and extra-embryonic cells which form the placenta and control stem cell development as the embryo develops. But scientists' knowledge of events at a cellular level after four days, when, to survive, the blastocyst has to implant into the mother's womb, has up to now been limited. Scientists have had to rely on snap shots taken from embryos removed from the living uterus at
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Contact: Emma Rayner
emma.rayner@nottingham.ac.uk
44-115-951-5793
University of Nottingham
Source:Eurekalert

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