New understanding of embryos may help IVF

Submitted by Shelby D Burns Fri 02/28/2014

Lab Up til now, a key stage of embryo development has been a mystery: implantation. Scientists have now found a way to study this key stage in development and the information they have gathered is important enough to change the way text books are written. Two phases to development The first stage of embryo development occurs right after fertilization as the floating ball of cells, or blastocyst, moves down the fallopian tube into the uterus. This is pre-implantation. The second phase, post-implantation, occurs after the blastocyst embeds itself in the mother’s uterus. And at this point, information stops. Blastocysts can be grown and studied in every way outside the body, but not at all after it implants. Embryos are so closely connected to their mothers, it’s impossible to study in the womb. “We know a lot about pre-implantation, but what happens after implantation – and particularly the moment of implantation – is an enigma,” explained Prof. Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz of the University of Cambridge. Huge changes during this mysterious time “During these two days, it goes form a relatively simple ball to a much larger, more complex cup-like structure, but exactly how that happens was a mystery – a black box of development. That is why we needed to develop a method that would allow us to culture and study embryos during implantation,” she said. Working with mice cells, the scientists have found a way to artificially implant blastocysts outside the body and watch them develop. A synthetic womb-like substance Scientists created a system comprising a gel and medium that has the right chemical and biological properties as well as similar elasticity to uterine tissue. More importantly, the substance is transparent allowing them to film the implantation and watch the changes occur. The new method will allow new study to take place as well as improving the process of IVF, and knowledge base for stem cells. “The text books make an educated guess of what happened during this part of development, but we now know that what I learned and what I teach my students was totally wrong,” the professor explained.

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