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Human embryonic stem cells developed from 4-cell embryo; world first may lessen ethical concerns
Date:7/9/2008

This release is available in Spanish.

Barcelona, Spain: For the first time in the world scientists have succeeded in developing human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) from a single cell, or blastomere, of a 4-cell stage embryo, the 24th annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology heard today (Wednesday 9 July). Dr. Hilde Van de Velde, from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Brussels, Belgium, said that their research meant that it might be possible in the future to produce hESC lines at an earlier stage without destroying the embryo.

Blastomeres are formed in the very early stages of embryonic development. About 24 hours after fertilisation the egg divides into two cells. Division into four cells occurs after 48 hours. After 96 hours, at the morula stage, the fertilized egg has divided four to five times. During this time the size of the embryo does not increase, so the cells become smaller and smaller and they are strongly attached to each other which makes them more difficult to manipulate. At this early stage important decisions are taken: inner cells will become the foetus (including germ cells) and outer cells will become trophoblast (the outermost layer of the embryo that attaches to the wall of the uterus and serves as a nutritive pathway). There was, until now, uncertainty about which stage of early development the blastomeres ceased to be totipotent, i.e. able to develop into all cell types of the body.

Worldwide, the majority of established hESC lines have been derived from the inner cells at the blastocyst stage; these are said to be pluripotent. "Previously, scientists have been able to derive hESC lines at the 8-cell stage," said Dr. Van de Velde, "but success rates were variable and it was necessary to culture them by mixing with established hESC lines. We have been able to derive hESCs at a
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Contact: Mary Rice
mary@mrcommunication.org
34-932-308-810
European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology
Source:Eurekalert

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