Australian-led international research team generates first model of early human embryos from skin cells

Monash University

In a discovery that will revolutionise research into the causes of early miscarriage, infertility and the study of early human development – an international team of scientists led by Monash University in Melbourne, Australia has generated a model of a human embryo from skin cells.

The team, led by Professor Jose Polo, has successfully reprogrammed these fibroblasts or skin cells into a 3-dimensional cellular structure that is morphologically and molecularly similar to human blastocysts. Called iBlastoids, these can be used to model the biology of early human embryos in the laboratory.

The research, published today in Nature, was led by Professor Polo, from Monash University’s Biomedicine Discovery Institute and the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute, and includes first authors Dr Xiaodong (Ethan) Liu and PhD student Jia Ping Tan, as well as the groups of Australian collaborators Dr Jennifer Zenker, from Monash University and Professor Ryan Lister from the University of Western Australia and international collaborators, Associate Professor Owen Rackham from Duke-National University of Singapore and Professor Amander Clark from UCLA in the United States.

The achievement is a significant breakthrough for the future study of early human development and infertility. To date, the only way to study these first days has been through the use of difficult to obtain, and scarce, blastocysts obtained from IVF procedures.

“iBlastoids will allow scientists to study the very early steps in human development and some of the causes of infertility, congenital diseases and the impact of toxins and viruses on early embryos – without the use of human blastocysts and, importantly, at an unprecedented scale, accelerating our understanding and the development of new therapies,” Professor Polo said.

The Polo Lab succeeded in generating the iBlastoids using a technique called “nuclear reprogramming” which allowed them to change the cellular identity of human skin cells that – when placed in a 3D ‘jelly’ scaffold known as an extracellular matrix – organised into blastocyst-like structures which they named iBlastoids.

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