Human embryology: implantation barrier overcome?
A proper understanding of early human development is important for improving reproductive health and research on regenerative medicine. However, anyone who ever tried doing research in thisa field will agree that it is all but easy. Even if you can get hold of human embryos, research has to adhere to extremely strict ethical and legal regulations. Using embryos from animals such as rats and primates offers only a partial solution as there are important differences between the early development of different species, specifically at the implantation stage.
According to an article in Nature, it is now possible to culture human embryos (derived from in vitro fertilization) for a period equivalent to 13 days post-fertilization in vivo. Despite structural differences between the in vitro and in vivo processes, this breakthrough paves the way for research that may result in an improved understanding of human development around the time of implantation. This may in return improve the understanding of how to induce human stem cells to differentiate into specific cells with therapeutic potential.
As always this type of scientific breakthrough raises ethical questions – in this case with regards to the limits on human embryo development in vitro.
Marlise van Staden (PhD, Physiology)
University of Limpopo
Rossant, J. 2016. Human embryology: implantation barrier overcome. Nature (04 May 2016)