According to reports, scientists have created the synthetic human embryos without using eggs or sperm, raising serious ethical concerns.
Researchers may use the synthetic embryos, which are only a few days or weeks old, to better understand pregnancy loss and the earliest stages of human development.
At the moment, no one is suggesting that they be made into babies.
However, discussions regarding how they should be handled legally and ethically have lagged behind the rapid progress.
To avoid having a “chilling effect” on the general public, Prof. James Briscoe of the Francis Crick Institute stated that the field needed to “proceed cautiously, carefully, and transparently.”
At the International Society for Stem Cell Research’s annual meeting, it was announced that human synthetic embryos were being developed.
Because, for the purposes of research, they resemble embryos rather than being identical to them, synthetic embryos are also referred to as “embryo models.”
The research comes from Prof. Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz’s labs at the California Institute of Technology and the University of Cambridge.
Many researchers are unable to comment on the significance of the reports because the full details have not yet been published and made available for scientific examination.
However, the basic idea is that the synthetic embryos are made from a stem cell rather than from an egg-sperm fusion.
Stem cells can develop into any type of cell in the body and, given the right conditions, can induce embryogenesis.
Human material has never been used before in this endeavor. However, because the starting material was cells cultured in the laboratory from a conventional embryo, they are not truly “synthetic.”
Prof. Zernicka-Goetz stated to the Guardian newspaper, “It’s beautiful and created entirely from embryonic stem cells.”
She has already created synthetic mouse embryos that show signs of brain development and heartbeat.
In the meantime, artificial monkey embryos have been implanted into female monkeys by scientists in China; however, all of the pregnancies have failed.
The synthetic embryos behave differently from the natural ones. Additionally, it is unclear how to regulate their use in research.
As Prof. Briscoe stated, One possibility is that stem cell-based models of human embryos could provide an ethical and more readily available alternative to the use of IVF-derived human embryos.
“On the other hand, the more closely stem-cell-derived models of human embryos resemble human embryos, the more important it is to have clear rules and instructions for how to use them.”
In research on human embryos, the 14-day rule is followed by most nations. Because of this, a human egg-fertilized embryo can grow for 14 days.
However, these “embryo models” are not considered “embryos” under the law and are not subject to the same regulations.
From the University of Birmingham, Dr. Ildem Akerman stated: These results suggest that we will soon be able to grow these cells beyond the 14-day limit, which could provide us with additional insights into human development.
“However, the capacity to do something does not imply that you should do it.”
In the UK, experts in law and ethics are working on a set of voluntary guidelines for how to proceed.
The synthetic embryos, the researchers hope, will help them learn more about the earliest stages of human life.
The University of Manchester’s Prof. Roger Sturmey stated, ” Although this stage of human development is associated with a significant number of miscarriages, we know very little about it.
“So models that can empower us to concentrate on this period are earnestly expected to assist with figuring out barrenness and early pregnancy misfortune.“