PerspectiveDevelopment

Exploring early human embryo development

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Science  08 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6393, pp. 1075-1076
DOI: 10.1126/science.aas9302

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Summary

Human in vitro fertilization (IVF) has been around for 40 years and yet we still do not fully understand how to ensure the generation of healthy embryos and to prevent unwanted genetic or epigenetic changes that may arise during in vitro culture. Once the embryo is transferred to the uterus to continue gestation, early implantation and the initial phases of embryogenesis and placenta formation are hidden from easy access for research. Errors in early development may lead to implantation problems, fetal defects, and placental insufficiencies, resulting in early pregnancy loss. Studying mice has provided clues about the major genetic and epigenetic events of early embryo development but, as is becoming increasingly evident, there are morphological and genetic differences between mice and humans that make cross-species comparisons problematic (1). Recent experimental approaches working directly with human embryos, or with embryo-derived stem cells and nonhuman primate embryos, have opened new avenues for studying the development of early human embryos.