In a new research, scientists have achieved a significant milestone by creating synthetic human embryos using stem cells, bypassing the necessity for traditional reproductive components like eggs or sperm.
These simulated embryos closely resemble the earliest stages of human development, according to the researchers.
Their creation could serve as a pivotal tool for gaining insights into the effects of genetic disorders and investigating the underlying biological factors contributing to recurrent miscarriages.
However, this groundbreaking accomplishment has also ignited profound concerns pertaining to ethics and legality. The laboratory-grown entities exist in a legal gray area, as they currently lie beyond the scope of prevailing regulations in the United Kingdom and numerous other nations.
While these structures lack a pulsating heart or the beginnings of a brain, they do contain cells that would typically develop into crucial components such as the placenta, yolk sac, and the embryo itself.
No clinical use of synthetic embryos in the near future
Renowned scientist, Prof Magdalena Żernicka-Goetz from the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology, unveiled this remarkable achievement during her keynote address at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in Boston.
She explained that it is now possible to produce models resembling human embryos by reprogramming embryonic stem cells.
The University of Cambridge and California Institute of Technology scientists have created the world's first human synthetic embryos from stem cells without using sperm or eggs.
This creation raised serious ethical and legal issues. pic.twitter.com/LkiC8apzYD
— Christine Maina (@christinemaina_) June 15, 2023
Using synthetic embryos for clinical purposes in the near future is highly unlikely. Their implantation into a patient’s womb is prohibited by law.
Furthermore, it remains uncertain whether these entities possess the capacity to progress beyond the initial phases of development.
The driving force behind this research is the scientists’ desire to unravel the mysteries of the “black box” period during embryonic development. This term is used because current regulations restrict the cultivation of embryos in laboratory settings to a maximum of 14 days.
To gain further insights into subsequent stages of development, researchers rely on pregnancy scans and donated embryos dedicated to scientific investigation.
A recent breakthrough is based on previous advancements
Robin Lovell-Badge, the head of stem cell biology and developmental genetics at the Francis Crick Institute in London, said that the objective behind modeling human embryonic development using stem cells is to gain extensive knowledge about the initiation of development and potential abnormalities, all while avoiding the use of early-stage embryos for research purposes.
Previously, both Żernicka-Goetz’s team and a rival group at the Weizmann Institute in Israel demonstrated that stem cells derived from mice could be prompted to self-organize into structures resembling early embryos, complete with an intestinal tract, brain tissue, and even a beating heart.
Since then, a race has ensued among researchers to replicate these findings using human models. Several teams have successfully replicated the earliest stages of human development, marking a significant advancement in this field of study.