Lab-grown womb lining is 'window into early pregnancy'

Scientists have grown miniature functional models of womb lining in the lab. This could help researchers better understand the early stages of pregnancy.

The models, called organoids, were grown for several months to enable them to reproduce the pattern of gene activity in the lining of the uterus.

Wellcome-funded researchers from the Centre for Trophoblast Research at the University of Cambridge showed that the organoids responded to female sex hormones and early pregnancy signals.

The early stages of pregnancy and the development of the placenta are impossible to investigate properly in a pregnant woman. These organoids will help researchers to understand the changes that happen during the menstrual cycle and how the placenta is established after fertilisation.

They also hope the models could provide insights into conditions such as endometriosis.

During the menstrual cycle the uterus lining – the endometrium – thickens in preparation for pregnancy. If a woman doesn't conceive, the uterus sheds this tissue, causing a period, and the cycle starts again. The organoids were grown in culture from cells derived from this endometrial tissue.

"Events in early pregnancy lay the foundations for a successful birth, and our new technique should provide a window into these events," says Professor Graham Burton, Director of the Centre for Trophoblast Research.

"There’s increasing evidence that complications of pregnancy, such as restricted growth of the foetus, stillbirth and pre-eclampsia – which appear later in pregnancy – have their origins around the time of implantation, when the placenta begins to develop."

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