#28 - Modeling embryos to understand early life - Jacob Hanna - Weizmann Institute of Science

Impulse - Meeting Healthcare Pioneers

07-05-2024 • 48 mins

Because of ethical and medical challenges, early human embryo development remains “a black box” to us, as Prof. Jacob Hanna himself puts it. Despite all the progress made in medicine over the past decades, there is still a whole lot to learn about the causes of miscarriages, infertility, or early developmental defects. In 2023, Jacob’s group from the Weizmann Institute of Science published a pivotal paper in Nature that redefines how we study developmental biology, with the potential to accelerate our understanding of early human life. Their achievement? The creation of the first synthetic embryo model closely resembling a day-14 fetus, obtained “ex utero” without gametes and outside a womb. A human embryo model derived from “naive” stem cells in the lab, which can be obtained from “adult” cells that make up our body (like skin cells for instance). A technology that could generate embryo models of ourselves based on a simple cell sample. This work had an unprecedented impact on the scientific community and the general public, being named by TIME Magazine as one of the 100 best inventions of 2023. A breakthrough that raises important ethical, technical, and legal questions. I had the honor of meeting Jacob for this episode of Impulse, with whom we discuss the functioning of this fascinating technology, its potential medical applications in the future, and the key societal questions it raises. A conversation where we dive into the magic of human development, with a stellar scientist and advocate for responsible scientific research! Timeline: (00:02:58) - Jacob’s journey from his medical practice to studying developmental biology (00:06:09) - Why we know so little about early human development (00:08:45) - Jacob’s lab breakthrough in modeling human embryos (00:16:20) - Reprogramming cells to their “naïve” state (00:18:09) - Dealing with your research being put under the spotlight (00:20:02) - The “recipe” to create human embryo models without gametes and outside a womb (00:27:22) - Ethical considerations and how far we can go with this technology (00:35:15) - Potential medical applications for the future (00:38:05) - Jacob’s role as an adviser to the startup Renewal Bio What we also talked about with Jacob: Prof. Shinya Yamanaka (2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Prof. John Gurdon) Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) Embryonic stem cells International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) Taledomide We cited with Jacob some of the past episodes of the series:: #23 - Disrupting the smart wearables industry - Leo Grünstein - Spiden As mentioned by Jacob during the episode, we recommend the book “The Master Builder” by Prof. Alfonso Martinez Arias, challenging the traditional thinking where cells (and not DNA) may hold the key to understanding life’s past and present. Feel free to follow the Weizmann Institute of Science on LinkedIn. You can contact Jacob via email and follow his activities on LinkedIn, X, and Facebook! If you want to give me feedback on the episode or suggest potential guests, contact me over LinkedIn or via email! And if you liked the episode, please share it, subscribe to the podcast, and leave a 5-star review on streaming platforms! 🙏 There’s now a bi-monthly newsletter around the podcast where you will be informed of the latest episodes and kept posted on the latest medical tech progress, subscribe here! Lastly, don’t forget to follow our activities on LinkedIn and our website!