Embryo study voted breakthrough of the year

Research that will enable scientists to grow and study human embryos in the lab for almost two weeks has been named people's choice breakthrough of the year by readers of Science magazine.

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Credit: John Cairns

Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

The work, led by Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz from Cambridge University and funded by Wellcome, will allow researchers to analyse for the first time key stages of human embryo development up to 13 days after fertilisation. This opens up exciting new possibilities for fundamental research and could lead to discoveries that improve health.

The breakthrough won 43% of the public vote, while the discovery of gravitational waves was named editor's choice breakthrough of the year.

"It’s a wonderful honour to have been given such public recognition for our work," says Professor Zernicka-Goetz. "It’s a natural human instinct to be curious about where we come from, but until now, technical hurdles have meant there’s been a huge gap in our understanding of how embryos develop. 

"We hope that our technique will crack open this ‘black box’ and allow us to learn more about our development."

Wellcome’s Director of Science Jim Smith congratulated Magdalena and her team, adding: "I’m really pleased to see Magda’s fantastic work recognised by Science magazine. 

"In almost doubling the time we can culture human embryos in the lab, she has created completely new opportunities for developmental biologists to understand how we develop. It’s a great achievement, and Wellcome is proud to have supported her ground-breaking work."

Read more on the Science website.

See the original studies in Nature and Nature Cell Biology: