UCLA researchers have collaborated with Chinese scientists to accurately analyze the genetic makeup of human and mouse embryos at a very early stage of development. This technique could lead to the accurate genetic diagnoses of diseases at an extremely early stage of development, even when the embryo consists of only eight cells. The study was published online on July 28 in the journal Nature.
The researchers used a powerful technology known as single-cell RNA sequencing. The team was led by Guoping Fan, professor of human genetics and molecular biology and member of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Eli & Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research. He explained, “The advantages of this technique are twofold; it is a much more comprehensive analysis than was achievable before and the technique requires a very minimal amount of sample material, just one cell.” Besides having applications for genetic diagnoses, this technology may also have important uses in reproductive medicine, allowing detection in early embryos of genetic diseases that derive from protein dysfunction, such as sickle cell disease, or for screening very early on for such genetic mutations as BRCA1 and BRCA2, which predispose women to breast and ovarian cancer.
“Previous to this paper we did not know this much about early human development,” noted study co-first author Kevin Huang, a post-doctoral scholar in Professor Fan’s laboratory. He added, “Now we can define what ‘normal’ looks like, so in the future we have a baseline to compare what ‘not normal’ looks like when looking for genetic problems. This is our first comprehensive glance at what is normal.” With single-cell RNA sequencing, much more gene transcription was detected than before. “The question we asked,” Fan said, “is how does the gene network orchestrate driving early development from one cell to two cells, two cells to four cells, etc. We have uncovered that crucial gene network and we can now predict possible future genetic disorders at the 8-cell stage.”
This research was supported by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, The International Science and Technology Cooperation Program of China, and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.
UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center has more than 240 researchers and clinicians engaged in disease research, prevention, detection, control, treatment and education. One of the nation’s largest comprehensive cancer centers, the Jonsson center is dedicated to promoting research and translating basic science into leading-edge clinical studies. In July 2013, the Jonsson Cancer Center was named among the top 12 cancer centers nationwide by U.S. News & World Report, a ranking it has held for 14 consecutive years. For more information on the Jonsson Cancer Center, click on this link.
The stem cell center was launched in 2005 with a UCLA commitment of $20 million over five years. A $20 million gift from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation in 2007 resulted in the renaming of the center. With more than 200 members, the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research is committed to a multi-disciplinary, integrated collaboration of scientific, academic and medical disciplines for the purpose of understanding adult and human embryonic stem cells. The center supports innovation, excellence and the highest ethical standards focused on stem cell research with the intent of facilitating basic scientific inquiry directed towards future clinical applications to treat disease. The center is a collaboration of the David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center, the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science and the UCLA College of Letters and Science. To learn more about the center, click on this link.