A revolutionary method that allows researchers to study human embryo development in the lab has been voted The People’s Choice Breakthrough of the Year 2016 by Science magazine readers. The technique, pioneered by Dr. Ali Brivanlou, Robert and Harriet Heilbrunn Professor of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Molecular Embryology at The Rockefeller University, vastly expands the ability to answer basic questions about our own development and has the potential to shed light on early pregnancy loss. Prior to Dr. Brivanlou’s discovery, very little was known about an initial stage of human embryonic development called implantation, when the developing embryo attaches to the uterus. By surrounding the developing embryo with just the right chemical environment and providing a suitable scaffolding for it to attach, the researchers managed to replicate the landmarks characteristic of normal human development up to 12 days after fertilization. The ability to study this process in an experimental setting, outside the uterus, has opened the door to a wide variety of studies on the molecular events that occur during the very earliest stages of development. In the near future, the ability to study implantation in culture is likely to shed light on why some early miscarriages occur and why in vitro fertilization has a high failure rate. Over the longer term, the work could advance the development of cell-based therapies for a variety of diseases. The work was conducted by research associates Alessia Deglincerti and Gist Croft, research specialist Lauren Pietila, as well as Dr. Eric D. Siggia, Viola Ward Brinning and Elbert Calhoun Brinning Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Theoretical Condensed Matter Physics (all at The Rockefeller), and Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, of the University of Cambridge (UK). Dr.
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