For over 20 years, biologist Olivier Pourquié has been researching an intriguing ‘tick’. When he was studying chicken embryos, Pourquié discovered the ‘ticking’ of a cellular clock that seemed to be linked to the formation of somites – structures that later turn into vertebrae.
Since then, Pourquié and his team have been studying this ‘segmentation clock’ in a variety of other organisms to determine how the ‘tick’ is linked to the development of the spine. They were able to replicate the ‘tick’ in a lab dish using mouse cells, but had never confirmed whether it existed in humans…until now!
After decades of research, Pourquié and his team have successfully replicated the segmentation clock using stem cells derived from adult human tissue. This incredible achievement has huge implications for the study of spinal conditions such as congenital scoliosis. This innovative in-vitro system will give the scientific community the ability to look at early spine development in humans. “Our system should be a powerful one to study the underlying regulation of the segmentation clock,” said Porquié.
When the discovery was first made, researchers were shocked that they were able to see the segmentation clock ticking in the cell dishes without having to replicate conditions similar to the human body. Pourquié described this two-dimensional model as a “dream system”.
Firstly, researchers want to use the system to compare the segmentation clocks of different animal species. Initial comparisons between the segmentation clock in mice and humans showed that the human clock ticks roughly once every 5 hours, while the mouse clock ticks once every 2.5 hours. The difference in these times directly parallels the difference in time for human and mouse gestation.
Besides looking at embryonic development, the system will also allow researchers to create different kinds of differentiated tissue (tissues that arise from the same region of the embryo as the vertebrae). From these studies, new treatments can be devised that could potentially stop various medical conditions from developing. Researchers hope to study:
- Skeletal muscle cells and their relationship with muscular dystrophy
- Brown fat cells and their ties to the development of type 2 diabetes
As well as exploring:
- What controls the segmentation clock’s variable speed
- What regulates the length of embryonic development in different animal species
We’re looking forward to seeing how this technology will impact the development of infantile spine conditions like scoliosis. It’s great to see such impressive and innovative work being done in this field. Read the full story here.
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