Scientists from the universities in the Netherlands have successfully created synthetic embryo-like structures from mouse stem cells, raising hopes of new insights into the causes of infertility. The model embryos resemble natural ones to the extent that, for the first time, they implant into the uterus and initiate pregnancy. The research, published this week in Nature, was met with enthusiasm by the scientific community, though some are wary of the idea of creating artificial embryos.
Here’s an excerpt from a Maastricht University press release explaining the new research:
“The early embryo is a hollow sphere formed by less than a hundred cells. It comprises an outer layer of cells, the future placenta, and a small cluster of inner cells, the future embryo. Stem cell lines representing these inner and outer parts were first cultured independently and largely multiplied in the laboratory. Using engineering technologies researchers then assembled them in a recreated environment that triggered their conversation and self-organisation. While observing the process [principal investigator] Dr. Nicolas Rivron noticed that ‘it is the embryonic cells that instruct the placental cells how to organise and to implant in utero. By understanding this molecular conversation, we open new perspectives to solve problems of infertility, contraception, or the adult diseases that are initiated by small flaws in the embryo’...”
MacGill University bioethicist Jonathan Kimmelman said that regulators need to think seriously about the limits that are placed embryo research, in light of these developments:
“We actually have to think substantively about...how we draw really clear and distinct lines so that we can unlock the scientific potential of this research, while also respecting moral limits on what we should do.”
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