The first week following fertilization represents a critical window of development during which the embryo must correctly establish the three first lineages; trophectoderm (future placenta), hypoblast (future yolk sac) and pluripotent epiblast cells which will form the actual embryo. It is from the epiblast cells that embryonic stem (ES) cells are derived.
Since infertility is a growing problem (affecting as many as 10-15% of all couples) there is increasing need for fundamental knowledge of the molecular and cellular processes that control preimplantation development to understand and possibly treat the underlying causes. The advent of cell reprogramming has dramatically accelerated the hopes for pluripotent stem cells in future regenerative medicine but also highlighted the urgent need to understanding of how pluripotency and lineage is acquired and regulated during normal preimplantation development.
Current knowledge about preimplantation biology has almost exclusively been worked out using the mouse model. Early human development on the other hand, which clearly is the organism that we need to understand the best, is woefully understudied. My research proposal take advantage of a unique combination of access to donated human embryos and novel technologies such as single cell transcriptional profiling and advanced flow cytometry with the ultimately goal to translate current knowledge about lineage and pluripotency from mouse to human.