An in vitro model of anteroposterior axial patterning in early embryo development
Very little is known about the peri-gastrulation stage of human development, since international regulation prevents research on human embryos beyond 14 days post-fertilisation and very few anatomical specimens exist for this early period of gestation, leading some to describe it as a 'black box' of development.
To begin to examine some of the basic principles of this stage, we harness the self-organising properties of human Pluripotent Stem Cells (hPSCs) by aggregating them in 3D under defined conditions.
We have found that these small aggregates of hPSCs are able to self-organise by breaking-symmetry, undergoing axial elongation and organising their gene expression along an AP axis, that mirrors some of the known transcriptional signatures of mammalian development.
Human gastruloids therefore provide a new window to begin to explore some of the principles of early human development using a scalable, and experimentally-tractable in vitro system.
Dr Naomi Moris did her PhD at Cambridge (2012-2016), with Dr Cristina Pina on transcriptional heterogeneity in mESCs looking at the role of epigenetics in regulating noise at cell fate transitions. Then she did a 1 year postdoc with Prof Alfonso Martinez-Arias, doing some bioinformatic analysis of mouse gastruloids, before getting a Junior Research Fellowship at Newnham College (2017-2021) to do her own semi-independent research where she worked on developing the human gastruloids.
In April 2021 Naomi started her new group at the Francis Crick Institute. The group will be using gastruloids to explore fundamental developmental biology questions as well as starting to move towards developing disease models and biomedical tools to try and understand the mechanism of congenital abnormalities.