Scientists in Israel say they have managed to create an entity resembling an early human embryo without using sperm, eggs, or a womb. The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, just south of Tel Aviv, has announced that a research team headed by Professor Jacob Hanna has “created complete models of human embryos.”
Worthy Christian News reports the researchers based the ‘creation’ on “stem cells cultured in the lab and managing to grow them outside the womb up to Day-14.” Chemicals were used to coax these stem cells into becoming four types of cells found in the earliest stages of the human embryo which even released hormones that turned a pregnancy test positive in the lab.
Professor Hanna said that “it closely mimics the development of a real human embryo, particularly the emergence of its exquisitely fine architecture. This is really a textbook image of a human Day-14 embryo which hasn’t been done before.”
He stressed that the research was done with the knowledge that “the drama” of any pregnant woman is in the first month; the remaining eight months of pregnancy are mainly lots of growth. “That first month is still largely a black box. Our stem cell–derived human embryo model offers an ethical and accessible way of peering into this box,” the professor claimed.
The findings which were published in the respected Nature magazine, add to the debate about how far scientists can go to create or manipulate human embryos. Professor Hanna made clear that the ambition for embryo models is to provide “an ethical” way of understanding the earliest moments of human lives.
“Many failures of pregnancy occur in the first few weeks, often before the woman even knows she’s pregnant. That’s also when many birth defects originate, even though they tend to be discovered much later. Our models can be used to reveal the biochemical and mechanical signals that ensure proper development at this early stage and the ways in which that development can go wrong,” he explained.
The breakthrough has implications for studying the genetics of various organs, the possible growing of organs for transplantation, and the investigation of the effects of pharmaceuticals on embryos.
Worthy Christian News reports that while critics argue embryo research is legally, ethically, and technically fraught, Professor Hanna and other researchers point out that their embryo models were allowed to grow and develop only until they were comparable to an embryo 14 days after fertilisation. In many countries, this is the legal cut-off for usual embryo research. This latest development has raised questions over whether more safeguards are needed.
The BBC reports: “This work also raises the question of whether embryo development could be mimicked past the 14-day stage. This would not be illegal [in many countries] as embryo models are legally distinct from embryos. And the closer these models come to an actual embryo, the more ethical questions they raise. They are not normal human embryos, they’re embryo models, but they’re very close to them.”
“Researchers stress it would be unethical, illegal and actually impossible to achieve a pregnancy using these embryo models. Assembling the 120 cells together goes beyond the point an embryo could successfully implant into the lining of the womb,” it adds.