Discussions around ethics arise as scientists create ‘synthetic embryos’

Stem cell scientists have made a breakthrough as they’ve created synthetic embryos without the use of eggs, sperm or fertilisation.

Scientists built up their work from 2018 research

While the creation has been regarded as a major step forward, many said these could not fully be considered as embryos as they also warned about ethical considerations in the future.

Scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science led by Palestinian stem cell scientist Jacob Hanna started by collecting cells from the skin of mice. They then made them artificially return to the state of stem cells.

This research was built up from 2018 work that had a bundle of mouse stem cells self-organised into the beginnings of an embryo that contained fewer cells. 

The stem cells from Hanna’s team’s research were placed in a special incubator. This was continuously moved to mimic the embryo being within a mother’s womb. However, most of the cells did not form into anything.

A mouse’s average gestation period is 20 days, after eight days of this experiment, scientists noticed early signs of a brain and a beating heart. These embryos were described to be 95% similar to normal mouse embryos, reports EWN.

“The embryo is the best organ-making machine and the best 3D bioprinter — we tried to emulate what it does,”

Hanna said.

Ethical discussions surrounding humans

If human organs could be grown in labs, this would ease stress for thousands of people by providing life-saving transplants. Hanna founded a company which aims to find a way to use technology for therapeutic purposes such as this.

Many researchers believe it is too early to consider a technique such as this could be used for human embryos

James Briscoe of Britain’s Francis Crick Institute spoke about the prospect of synthetic human embryos is still distant. 

“Although the prospect of synthetic human embryos is still distant, it will be crucial to engage in wider discussions about the legal and ethical implications of such research,”

said Briscoe.

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