01
September
2016
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00:00
Europe/London

New research uncovers how organs and tissues develop in the first two months of pregnancy – and unlocks potential for treating developmental disorders

  • Study provides the very first insight into the human embryo development
  • New insight into how developmental disorders can occur during the crucial first two months of pregnancy
Pregnant woman

For the first time, the precise way organs and tissue develop in early pregnancy has been mapped – providing new insight into how developmental disorders can occur during the crucial first two months of pregnancy.

The research, carried out by a team from the University of Manchester and Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is published in the current issue of the journal eLIFE.

Concentrating on the period know as organogenesis – the point at which organs and tissue develop out of the newly established germ layers of ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm – the study provides the very first insight into the human embryo development.

The computational model developed during the study has not only correctly identified many genes that were already known to cause developmental problems when faulty, but more importantly it discovered many other genes which could lead to developmental defects in an unborn child. The identification of these potentially damaging genes has led the research team to believe that not only genetic diagnoses will improve in terms of identifying development disorders at an earlier stage but also the potential to treat these disorders in utero.

Until now, remarkably little has been known about organogenesis – the assembly phase for human organs and tissues. Any errors in this stage of development can result in miscarriage or serious birth defects. Our research has opened a window to this crucial phase, and hopefully will allow the scientists who follow us to develop methods to eliminate or significantly reduce organ and tissue disorders
Professor Neil Hanley

Neil Hanley, Professor of Medicine at The University of Manchester’s School of Medical Sciences and lead author of the report, said the research findings will give a major boost to the understanding of early human development.

“Until now, remarkably little has been known about organogenesis – the assembly phase for human organs and tissues. Any errors in this stage of development can result in miscarriage or serious birth defects. Our research has opened a window to this crucial phase, and hopefully will allow the scientists who follow us to develop methods to eliminate or significantly reduce organ and tissue disorders.”

Working on the established knowledge that genes control the way organs and tissues develop – certain genes switch on or off in complex patterns, downloading DNA code into RNA molecules - the team used RNA-sequencing to identify the RNAs instrumental in organ development.

The computational model developed by the team used the identified organ-developing RNAs to decode the precise patterns of gene activity in the tissues. The sequencing uncovered both normal patterns leading to healthy development as well as a significantly large and previous unknown number of genes which lead to defective development.

https://elifesciences.org/content/5/e15657

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