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Welcome to The Visible Embryo, a comprehensive educational resource on human development from conception to birth.

The Visible Embryo provides visual references for changes in fetal development throughout pregnancy and can be navigated via fetal development or maternal changes.

The National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development awarded Phase I and Phase II Small Business Innovative Research Grants to develop The Visible Embryo. Initally designed to evaluate the internet as a teaching tool for first year medical students, The Visible Embryo is linked to over 600 educational institutions and is viewed by more than one million visitors each month.

Today, The Visible Embryo is linked to over 600 educational institutions and is viewed by more than 1 million visitors each month. The field of early embryology has grown to include the identification of the stem cell as not only critical to organogenesis in the embryo, but equally critical to organ function and repair in the adult human. The identification and understanding of genetic malfunction, inflammatory responses, and the progression in chronic disease, begins with a grounding in primary cellular and systemic functions manifested in the study of the early embryo.

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Pregnancy Timeline by SemestersFetal liver is producing blood cellsHead may position into pelvisBrain convolutions beginFull TermWhite fat begins to be madeWhite fat begins to be madeHead may position into pelvisImmune system beginningImmune system beginningPeriod of rapid brain growthBrain convolutions beginLungs begin to produce surfactantSensory brain waves begin to activateSensory brain waves begin to activateInner Ear Bones HardenBone marrow starts making blood cellsBone marrow starts making blood cellsBrown fat surrounds lymphatic systemFetal sexual organs visibleFinger and toe prints appearFinger and toe prints appearHeartbeat can be detectedHeartbeat can be detectedBasic Brain Structure in PlaceThe Appearance of SomitesFirst Detectable Brain WavesA Four Chambered HeartBeginning Cerebral HemispheresFemale Reproductive SystemEnd of Embryonic PeriodEnd of Embryonic PeriodFirst Thin Layer of Skin AppearsThird TrimesterSecond TrimesterFirst TrimesterFertilizationDevelopmental Timeline
CLICK ON weeks 0 - 40 and follow along every 2 weeks of fetal development
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Home | Pregnancy Timeline | News Alerts |News Archive Nov 12, 2014

Diagram of a Cilia.
A ciliopathy is a genetic disorder in the stucture and/or function of cilia -
either within the cell or at their anchoring structure in the basal body,
Image credit: Wikipedia




Clues to genetics of heart defects in Downs

The risk of atrioventricular septal defect — AVSD— is higher in children with Down syndrome. In AVSD, the central region of the heart fails to separate the atria from the ventricles.

Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal abnormality in humans, involving a third copy of all or part of chromosome 21. In addition to intellectual disability, individuals with Down syndrome have a high risk of congenital heart defects. But, not all people with Down syndrome are afflicted – about half have structurally normal hearts.

The high risk for congenital heart defects with Downs helps to identify changes in genes, both on and off chromosome 21.

Researchers at Emory University School of Medicine, and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, Oregon Health Science University, and University of Pittsburgh, published their results — from this largest genetic study of congenital heart defects in Down syndrome — in the journal Genetics in Medicine.

Researchers found Down syndrome infants with congenital heart defects were more likely to have rare, large gene deletions. These deletions tend to affect cilia — cell structures important for signaling and patterning in embryo development. Cilia are the slender protuberances projecting from the cell body.

These new findings along with other recent studies, suggest the risk for congenital heart defects in Downs can come from several genes and environmental factors outside the substantial risk from an extra chromosome 21.

“Understanding the origin of heart disorders in individuals with Downs may reveal aspects of biology that would allow better personalized health care, as genetic alterations that affect the heart may also affect other organs such as the lungs or gut."

Michael Zwick PhD, enior author and associate professor, human genetics and pediatrics, Emory University.

The study included 452 individuals with Down syndrome. Of those participants, 210 had complete atrioventricular septal defects (AVSDs), a serious heart defect relatively common (about 20 percent) among Downs. The remaining 242 had structurally normal hearts. The Emory team used high density microarrays to probe more than 900,000 sites across these individuals' genomes to detect structural variation, including deletions or duplications of DNA.

An atrioventricular septal defect means the central region of the heart separating the atria from the ventricles has failed to form correctly. The defect increases the workload on the heart. Complete AVSD leads to heart failure from fluid buildup in the lungs and difficulty breathing, requiring surgery in the first year of life.

Research results give evidence connecting AVSDs with cilia errors. Ciliopathic gene errors can include kidney, eye, and neurodevelopmental disorders.

To confirm and strengthen their findings, Zwick and team are currently performing independent study of individuals with Down syndrome, using whole genome sequencing to further delineate altered genes that perturb heart development in children.

The goal of this study was to identify the contribution of large copy-number variants to Down syndrome–associated atrioventricular septal defects, the risk for which in the trisomic population is 2,000-fold more as compared with that of the general disomic population.

Genome-wide copy-number variant analysis was performed on 452 individuals with Down syndrome (210 cases with complete atrioventricular septal defects; 242 controls with structurally normal hearts) using Affymetrix SNP 6.0 arrays, making this the largest heart study conducted to date on a trisomic background.

Large, common copy-number variants with substantial effect sizes (OR > 2.0) do not account for the increased risk observed in Down syndrome–associated atrioventricular septal defects. By contrast, cases had a greater burden of large, rare deletions (P < 0.01) and intersected more genes (P < 0.007) as compared with controls. We also observed a suggestive enrichment of deletions intersecting ciliome genes in cases as compared with controls.

Our data provide strong evidence that large, rare deletions increase the risk of Down syndrome–associated atrioventricular septal defects, whereas large, common copy-number variants do not appear to increase the risk of Down syndrome–associated atrioventricular septal defects. The genetic architecture of atrioventricular septal defects is complex and multifactorial in nature.

Genet Med advance online publication 23 October 2014

The first author was Emory postdoctoral fellow Dhanya Ramachandran, PhD, working with Zwick. Emory co-authors included assistant professors Lori Bean, PhD, Tracie Rosser, PhD and David Cutler, PhD, in the Department of Human Genetics, and Jennifer Mulle, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Rollins School of Public Health. Ken Dooley, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Emory and pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, reviewed medical records and made definitive diagnoses for all study participants.

The research was supported by the National Heart Lung & Blood Institute (HL092981, HL083300) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD38979).

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