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June 20, 2013

Gene identified that directs the fertilized egg to develop into embryo and placenta

A gene involved in the turnover rate of healthy cells also drives normal development in a fertilized egg, according to a study to be published on-line in the journal Current Biology on June 20, 2013.  

Researchers from The Hospital of Sick Children (SickKids) show that the tumour suppressor gene Nf2 (neurofibromatis factor 2) directs the cells in a fertilized egg to grow into a fetus and its placenta. The gene is already known to ensure that animals grow as many cells as they need – but not too many, as in cancer, says co-author Dr. Janet Rossant, Chief of Research at SickKids.

“Our current study in mice found a role that Nf2 plays soon after an egg is fertilized,” Rossant says. “Before the embryo attaches to the uterus at implantation, the Nf2 gene is required to direct cells to become the so-called pluripotent cells that develop into all the organs and tissues of the fetus, while preventing them from all becoming cells that make the placenta,” she says.

“This discovery tells us something new about how stem cells form in the embryo, before they go on to develop into all the body’s tissues and organs. It will interest both developmental researchers of the embryo and scientists working in current and emerging stem cell therapies,” she adds. Rossant is also Professor of Molecular Genetics at University of Toronto and is Deputy Scientific Director of the Canadian Stem Cell Network.
“This brings new insights into how the embryo sets aside the cells that are the origin of embryonic stem cells and have great potential for repairing diseased and damaged tissues in children and adults,” Rossant adds. "And our studies provide new insights into the development of the placenta and problems of early embryo loss and pregnancy-related disorders in humans.”

The paper is called “The Hippo pathway member Nf2 is required for inner cell mass specification,” and the Nf2 study was funded by SickKids Foundation and Canadian Institutes for Health Research.

Rossant was most recently recognized on June 16 in Cancun, Mexico, when she received the Ross G. Harrison Medal (lifetime achievement award) from the International Society of Developmental Biologists.

About The Hospital for Sick Children
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally.  Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is proud of its vision for Healthier Children. A Better World. For more information, please visit www.sickkids.ca.

About Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning
The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning will bring together researchers from different scientific disciplines and a variety of clinical perspectives, to accelerate discoveries, new knowledge and their application to child health — a different concept from traditional research building designs. The facility will physically connect SickKids science, discovery and learning activities to its clinical operations.  Designed by award-winning architects Diamond + Schmitt Inc. and HDR Inc. with a goal to achieve LEED® Gold Certification for sustainable design, the Gilgan Centre will create an architectural landmark as the eastern gateway to Toronto’s Discovery District. The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning is funded by a grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Government of Ontario, philanthropist Peter Gilgan and community support for the ongoing fundraising campaign. For more information, please visit www.sickkidsfoundation.com/bepartofit.

For more information, please contact:

Polly Thompson 
The Hospital for Sick Children 
Media Relations
Phone: 416-813-7654 ext.202059

Matet Nebre
The Hospital for Sick Children
Media Relations
Phone: 416-813-6380