A discovery of how stem cells form the neck and shoulders could in future help babies born with birth defects, say scientists from University College London, UK.

Although relatively rare, congenital abnormalities can be severely disabling and even fatal - one has been linked to cot death.

By following the development of animal embryos they found one stem cell group made not only muscles in the neck and shoulder, but also the skeletal structures where these muscles attached. Previously it was thought that different groups were responsible.

Dr Georgy Koentges from University College London said: “Now that we have identified these key players in forming the neck and shoulders we can start looking for the genes that are on in these stem cells.

“We can look at whether these genes are mutated or defective in humans and cause harm.”

Dr Sue Kimber, from the School of Biological Sciences at Manchester University, said: “This is indeed a very interesting discovery which will help us to understand the origins of a number of diseases as well as revealing a previously unrecognised mechanism governing development of organs and tissues.”

Source: BBC [news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4699289.stm]