Now, thanks to The University of Nottingham team's newly developed culture environment, scientists at Cambridge University have been able to observe and record new aspects of the development of the embryo after four days. Most importantly they have been able to see at first hand the process which is the first step in the formation of the head, involving pioneer cells moving a large distance (for a cell) within the embryo. They have observed clusters of extra-embryonic cells which signal where the head of the embryo should form. To track these cells in mouse embryos they have used a gene expressed only in this 'head' signalling region marked by a protein which glows.
In this way they have been able to work out that these cells come from one or two cells at the blastocyst stage whose progeny ultimately cluster together in a specific part of the embryo, before collectively migrating to the position at which they signal head development. The cells that lead this migration appear to have an important role in leading the rest and acting as pioneers.
This new breakthrough is part of a major research effort at Nottingham to learn how the development of the embryo can teach us how to repair the adult body. The work is led by Professor Kevin Shakesheff with prestigious funding from European Research Council.
Professor Shakesheff added: "Everyone reading this article grew themselves from a single cell. With weeks of the embryo forming all of the major tissues and organs are formed and starting to function. If we could harness this remarkable ability of the human body to self-form then we could design new medical treatments that cure diseases that are currently untreatable. For example, diseases and defects of the heart could be reversed if we could recreate the process by which cardiac muscle forms and gets wired into the blood and nervous system."
|Contact: Emma Rayner|
University of Nottingham