Researchers eager to create parentless embryos with stem cells

An international fertility conference early next year will teach participants how to create embryos with stem cells. The organisers for the International Conference on Preservation of Fertility in Cancer Patient 2013, to be held in Hong Kong in February, are making astonishing claims. The conference “will teach the neo-creation of sperm and eggs from skin cells using the new techniques of IPS cell culture and gamete differentiation recently perfected in mice in Japan,” they told potential participants. “This will be the future for the most difficult infertility cases, actually making sperm and eggs from somatic cells.  In mice, normal litters have been born with this approach.”

The parentage of the resulting embryos -- if this ever happens -- would be a legal and ethical conundrum. The sperm would be linked genetically to a person who might or might not be a man and the egg would be linked genetically to a person who might or might not be a woman. Theoretically, the same person egg and sperm could be used to create a child. The words mother and father would become a minefield. 

One of the keynote speakers at the conference is Katsuhiko Hayashi,  of Kyoto University in Japan. Earlier this year he managed to create healthy mouse pups from mouse egg cells that he had created from induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. Evelyn Telfer, another speaker at the Hong Kong conference, told New Scientist at the time that eventually it would be possible to create both eggs and sperm from stem cells. "If you took the stem cells from the same individual you could avoid sexual reproduction," she said.

“There will never have been, I believe, until now, a more exciting conference and workshop that will keep you abreast of the newest technology we will be using for reproduction in the next decade,” say the organisers. 

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