KU Leuven: Leuven stem cell biologists make new type of human cell for research

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Professor Vincent Pasque’s KU Leuven team has succeeded in generating a new cell model in the lab using stem cells. These cells closely resemble their natural counterparts in fledgling human embryos. This allows researchers to better study what happens just after an embryo implants in the womb. The researchers report this in Cell Stem Cell .

About eight days after conception, a human embryo normally implants itself in the womb. At that time, the embryo is inaccessible for research for technical and ethical reasons. That is why scientists have already developed stem cell models for different types of embryo cells in order to be able to study human development.

Vincent Pasque’s team developed the first model for a specific type of human embryo cells, the extra-embryonic mesoderm cells.

Professor Pasque: “The cells we developed a model for make the first blood in an embryo, help the embryo attach to the future placenta and play a role in the formation of the primitive umbilical cord. In humans, this type of cells appears at an earlier stage of development than in mouse embryos. That makes our model extra important, because research in mouse embryos does not necessarily provide answers that also apply to humans.”

The researchers made their model cells from human stem cells that can still develop into all cell types in an embryo. The new cells closely resemble their natural counterparts in human embryos and are therefore a good model for that specific cell type.

The cells we developed a model for make the first blood in an embryo, help the embryo attach to the future placenta and play a role in the formation of the primitive umbilical cord.

“You don’t make a new human cell type every day,” Pasque continues. “We are very excited, because now we can study processes that are normally hidden. Thanks to the model, for example, we have already managed to find out where extra-embryonic mesoderm cells come from. In time, our model will hopefully shed more light on medical challenges such as fertility problems, miscarriages and developmental disorders.”

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