Researchers have created ‘synthetic’ embryos from mouse stem cells that have beating hearts as well as the foundations of brains and all other organs.
The models are intended to help the scientists at the University of Cambridge better understand the mechanisms of embryo development.
While the research was carried out in mouse models, it is hoped the results could increase understanding of why some human embryos fail while others go on to develop into a healthy pregnancy.
Additionally, they could be used to guide the repair and development of synthetic human organs for transplantation, the experts suggest.
Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, said: ‘Our mouse embryo model not only develops a brain, but also a beating heart, all the components that go on to make up the body.
‘It’s just unbelievable that we’ve got this far.
‘This has been the dream of our community for years, and a major focus of our work for a decade and finally we’ve done it.’
Pictured: Natural (top) and synthetic (bottom) embryos with heart and head folds stained in colour. They show comparable heart and brain formation
If human models of embryos can be created, they could provide new information about development processes that would be otherwise impossible to study in real embryos. Pictured: Natural (top) and synthetic (bottom) embryos with heart and head folds stained
She added: ‘This period of human life is so mysterious, so to be able to see how it happens in a dish – to have access to these individual stem cells, to understand why so many pregnancies fail and how we might be able to prevent that from happening – is quite special.’
UK law currently permits human embryos to be studied in the laboratory only up to the 14th day of development.
If human models can be created, they could provide new information about development processes that would be otherwise impossible to study in real embryos.
Professor Zernicka-Goetz said: ‘What makes our work so exciting is that the knowledge coming out of it could be used to grow correct synthetic human organs to save lives that are currently lost.
‘It should also be possible to affect and heal adult organs by using the knowledge we have on how they are made.
‘This is an incredible step forward and took 10 years of hard work of many of my team members – I never thought we’d get to this place.
‘You never think your dreams will come true, but they have.’