Artificial womb study could help improve fertility treatment

Research that allowed scientists to see early mammalian development in an artificial womb could help improve fertility treatment in the future, it has been suggested.

A team at the University of Nottingham, UK, used a soft polymer bowl to grow a mouse embryo outside the mother's body for the first time ever, allowing experts from the nation's Cambridge University to observe what happens between four and eight days after conception.

This is a period of development that is not well understood, as previously it has not been possible to culture a fertilised egg for more than four days, which is when the blastocyst must implant itself in the womb to survive.

Importantly, the scientists have been able to ascertain that one or two cells at the blastocyst stage develop into a cluster of extra-embryonic cells and signal where the head should be formed.

Kevin Shakesheff, professor of tissue engineering at the establishment and leader of the study, said: "We hope this work will unlock further secrets which could improve medical treatments that require tissues to regenerate and also open up more opportunities to improve IVF [in vitro fertilisation]."
An investigation recently published in the journal Fertility and Sterility and conducted by researchers at Ireland's University College Dublin's Conway Institute found "clear metabolic differences" in the follicular fluid surrounding eggs that would lead to a successful pregnancy through IVF and those that would not.

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