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Creation of Synthetic Human Embryos using Stem Cells

IVF.net Newsdesk

19 June 2023

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A remarkable scientific breakthrough has been achieved as researchers successfully produced synthetic human embryos using stem cells. This milestone allows scientists to bypass the conventional requirement for eggs or sperm, potentially paving the way for significant medical advances.

These lab-cultivated embryo models closely mirror those in the earliest stages of human development. Consequently, they offer scientists an invaluable opportunity to delve deeper into the impact of genetic disorders and better understand the biological triggers of recurrent miscarriage.

Yet, this scientific accomplishment isn't without its complications. It raises several ethical and legal questions because these laboratory-engineered entities exist outside the bounds of current legislation in the United Kingdom and most other countries worldwide.

Unlike natural embryos, these lab-grown structures don't possess a beating heart or preliminary brain development. Nevertheless, they contain cells that usually form essential elements of the embryo, such as the placenta and yolk sac.

While the creation of these human embryo-like models marks a significant scientific stride, their practical, clinical use is currently out of reach. Legal restrictions forbid their implantation into a patient's womb, and their potential to mature beyond the initial developmental stages is yet to be confirmed.

The main impetus behind this research is to illuminate the mysterious "black box" period of development. Scientists, due to legal constraints, can only cultivate embryos in labs for up to 14 days, hence this period's name. Subsequent developmental tracking occurs much later, relying on pregnancy scans and research-donated embryos.

This new approach provides an unprecedented opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge about embryonic development and potential complications, all without the necessity of using early-stage embryos for research.

This breakthrough follows previous successes from teams that demonstrated mouse stem cells' ability to self-assemble into early embryo-like structures. This catalyzed efforts to apply these findings to human models, with several teams now having replicated the earliest stages of development successfully.

These novel findings are yet to be published in detail in a peer-reviewed journal. However, it has been reported that the embryos were cultivated to a stage slightly beyond what corresponds to 14 days of development in a natural embryo.

These lab-grown structures, each originating from a single embryonic stem cell, achieved the developmental milestone known as gastrulation. This process sees the embryo transition from a continuous cell sheet into distinct cell lines, setting the basic body's axes. While these models lack a heart, gut, or preliminary brain, they exhibit the presence of primordial cells - the precursors to egg and sperm cells.

This scientific advancement has accentuated the ever-widening gap between the pace of scientific progress and the development of associated legal frameworks. Current legislation fails to acknowledge that these models, due to their close resemblance to normal embryos, should potentially be subject to similar regulation. This discrepancy is causing growing concern among researchers and society at large.

Adding to the complex legal and ethical landscape is the unanswered question of whether these synthetic structures could, theoretically, develop into a living organism. Previous attempts to implant synthetic embryos, derived from mouse and monkey cells, into the wombs of female animals, have not resulted in the birth of live offspring. At this point, it remains unclear whether this hurdle is merely technical or indicative of a more profound biological issue.

The future of this innovative field is uncertain, but the demand for more comprehensive legislation is evident. The question of whether these synthetic embryos could potentially become living beings underscores the urgency of this issue. As this groundbreaking work continues, both the ethical discourse and regulatory landscape must evolve in parallel with scientific advancements.

 

Sources and References

The Guardian - Synthetic human embryos created in groundbreaking advance

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Date Added: 19 June 2023   Date Updated: 19 June 2023
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