More than 20 years ago researchers at Harvard University, led by professor Oliver Pourquié, discovered how the vertebra in chickens first form. Essentially, a ‘tick’ initiates the formation of a somite which then turns into a vertebra.
It was through this discovery that the team was able to create the very first lab model of this segmentation clock. Not only were they able to create this model, they were able to create it using human cells.
Researchers had never before understood how this segmentation clock works in humans. Learning how the spine develops at the earliest stages could be invaluable when it comes to rare disease research.
Making the Model
Researchers have been able to replicate various human cell models in the lab. However, musculoskeletal tissues were always stubborn. This team found that they simply needed to add 2 different chemical compounds to the cells while they were in a growth culture medium. Through this method, the tissue was produced with a 90% efficiency rating.
The team then created the same model using mouse cells, and witnessed that for these too a segmentation clock was present.
The fact that the researchers could compare human development and the development of the mouse cells side by side was incredibly valuable. They were able to document how often the clock ticks for each cell (every five hours for humans and every 2.5 hours for mice). This frequency is important because it perfectly matched the difference in gestation time for both animals.
Why it Matters
The ultimate hope is that these new models will allow researchers to continue to generate musculoskeletal tissues in the lab, continuing to understand their functions. If skeletal muscle cells could be studied this way for muscular dystrophy research, or brown fat cells could be investigated to study diabetes, who’s to say what kind of findings may be uncovered?
These cells could become a foundation for new treatments.
It’s essential to understand the basic biology of a system and how it functions in order to create accurate tissues. Through these models, we can work to uncover therapies to combat issues which manifest in those systems through various conditions.
These exciting findings have been published in the journal Nature.
You can read more about this investigation here.