PhD student discovers that a cell type previously thought to be a source of nutrients can make an embryo on its own

Madeleine Linneberg-Agerholm, and colleagues in the Brickman group at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine, reNEW, University of Copenhagen, have had a paper published in Cell, following the discovery of the remarkable memory contained within a cell type previously thought to be a source of nutrients for the early embryo.

These cells, and the in vitro-cultured stem cells derived from them, remember how to make a complete embryo and have the capacity to recapitulate embryonic development in the absence of other cells.

The Brickman group at reNEW, Copenhagen node, led by Professor Joshua Brickman, are interested in understanding the origins of biological patterns, particularly at genome level. The genome relates to the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism and the group is researching how cells access the information in our genomes.

Leading up to the publication of this paper, PhD student Madeleine Linneberg-Agerholm, and colleagues, found that a cell type in the early embryo maintains a window of plasticity during which time it is possible to redirect the fate of the cells and make any other cell type. Plasticity here relates to the ability of cells to change their phenotypes in response to signaling cues.

The Brickman group already knew from a paper they published in Nature in 2019, that transcription factors stay associated with stem cell genes following the onset of differentiation. As a result of those transcription factors being present, cells remember how to access these genes again, recalling their past identity and upon receiving the right signals, return to their stem cell state. This means that even if a cell has been instructed to adopt a new identity or function, it still remembers what came before.

“It is really quite amazing how the primitive endoderm, that otherwise normally provides nutrient support to the developing embryo, maintains such a high degree of plasticity and cellular memory,” said Madeleine Linneberg-Agerholm.

“This could be particularly important for success in fertility treatment, as the primitive endoderm is the main signature of high grade clinical human embryos,” continued Professor Brickman.

This was a remarkable discovery and, in fact, was based on a classical experiment done in the 1970s, in which the trophoblast was removed and shown to grow back again.  Now, over 40 years on, Madeleine has demonstrated, for the first time in history, that the source of this regrowth was the primitive endoderm and that a mouse can be made entirely from extra embryonic cells; cells that primarily give rise to structures that support the embryo during its development.

Esteemed colleagues from reNEW elected members of EMBO

The Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine is proud to announce that CEO and Executive Director of reNEW, Professor Mellissa H. Little and Principal Investigator at reNEW’s Copenhagen node, Professor Joshua Brickman, have this year been elected members of the prestigious European Molecular Biology Organization – EMBO.

4M euros for research into nuclear metabolism

Associate Professor Jan Żylicz from reNEW Copenhagen node, as part of an international consortium, has been awarded an MSCA Doctoral Networks Grant for project; NUCLEAR – metabolic regulation of genome function and cell identity.

The Serup Group in Copenhagen break new ground on the development of a stem cell therapy to treat diabetes

Assistant Professor Philip Seymour, former Assistant Professor Nina Funa and PhD student Heidi Mjøseng, with colleagues from the Serup Group at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Stem Cell Medicine, reNEW, University of Copenhagen, have had a paper published in Stem Cell Reports investigating further development of a cellular therapy to replace the lost insulin-producing beta cells in type one diabetics.