Until now, scientists studying the development of embryos inside eggshells had to rely on a crude laboratory technique called ‘windowing’ that’s akin to creating a hole that can be opened and closed. Thanks to the refinement of cutting edge research techniques, scientists are increasingly adept at using stem cells to partially recreate organs on a microscopic scale to more accurately, and humanely, test and observe how certain organs and living systems respond to various drug therapies and treatments.
Harnessing these newer techniques, scientists from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China created an artificial eggshell that’s soft and assumes the shape of real eggshells. This artificial eggshell – “made from a transparent layer of olydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), which is a widely used silicon-based organic polymer” – allows scientists to gain new insights into the development of embryos in a way they’ve never have before.
This new technique provides scientists a chance to culture avian embryos for at least 17 days, which marks the time just before they hatch. Scientists can also inject a variety of organic fluids for early diagnosis. Given the transparency of the egg, scientists can observe how organisms live, grow and develop in their earliest stages of life, with specific focus on how central and peripheral nervous systems develop.
Their next step is to develop a transparent human belly that will give us a fascinating look inside…okay, I went too far, but this process is pretty much equivalent when compared to what it would look like in humans. In sum, scientific research is developing increasingly sophisticated methods to study biological processes in a way that is clearly headed toward the humane treatment of test subjects.