ERC Proof of Concept to investigate clinical applications of blastoids

IMBA Group Leader Nicolas Rivron was awarded a Proof of Concept Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for his research on human blastoids. With this funding, his team will investigate possible clinical applications of their human blastoid model – an in vitro model of early human embryos made from stem cells – previously developed by the team. The ERC is Europe’s most prestigious and highly competitive funding body for basic research within the EU.

Human blastoids are a stem cell-made in vitro model of the early stages of the human embryo preceding its implantation into the uterus. This early embryonic stage is called “blastocyst” from which the term “blastoid” was coined. The blastoid technology was first developed by Nicolas Rivron using mouse stem cells. More recently, Rivron and his team at IMBA discovered a reliable way to form a similar model from human stem cells. The researchers underline that blastoids, which are made in vitro without fertilization and without using an embryo, are only research models. “Because human blastoids are formed with established stem cells, we can generate them in large numbers in the lab. This allows for high-throughput genetic and drug screens, which are at the base of many scientific and biomedical discoveries” explains Nicolas Rivron.

The ERC Proof of Concept Grant will now allow Rivron and his team to investigate clinical applications of blastoids. Concretely, the scientists will use this in vitro model to screen for naturally occurring molecules that enhance the blastocysts’ formation and implantation into the uterus. They will do this by investigating the blastoid’s development and implantation into in vitro organoids of the human endometrium, the cells forming the epithelial lining of the uterus. Hence, research carried out in the frame of this funding aims at enhancing fertility. “Our research using human blastoids seeks to empower women to choose whether and when to have a child,” sums up Rivron.