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Living model of implantation for studying the steps in early pregnancy

10 December 2021

Mother’s Touch

Fragile but full of life, an early embryo must embed in the womb or perish. Attempts to watch the vital process of implantation are often obscured by layers of tissue – but here scientists have found another way. Keeping a mouse embryo alive in nourishing hydrogel inside a microfluidic device, they use live cell imaging to watch as the embryonic cells (highlighted in green) grow arm-like trophoblast giant cells, reaching out for the lining of endothelial cells, similar to those found along the womb’s blood vessels. As the trophoblast makes contact, researchers find the embryo switches on genes to adapt to its new home, connecting up with the blood vessels and finding protection in the soft layers. This living model for implantation may now be used to study the crucial steps in early pregnancy, perhaps revealing ways to guide the process in humans and avoid early miscarriage.

Written by John Ankers

Published in Developmental Cell, November 2021

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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