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Scientists Succeed in Creating a Human Embryo From a Single Stem Cell

18.06.2023
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https://www.bbc.com/news/health-65914934

The sensational statement made at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research raises a number of questions - primarily ethical and legal.

Why is the experiment considered historical?

The embryo of any mammal is formed at the moment of conception, that is, the fusion of two germ cells of the parents. Each of them contains only half a set of chromosomes - so when they merge, they complement each other's genetic information. In a sensational experiment, each human embryo was grown by dividing a single donor stem cell - that is, in fact, we are talking about cloning. Conducting experiments on human cloning is prohibited by law in most countries of the world - however, in this case, permission was obtained, subject to the destruction of grown embryos no older than two weeks old. However, it is necessary to make a reservation that the sensational statement has not yet received formal confirmation - in the form of a scientific article with a detailed story about the preparation and conduct of a successful experiment. So many experts refrain from meaningful comments, waiting for the release of the publication.

How is an artificial human embryo different from a normal one?

As mentioned above, the laboratory embryo was not obtained by the fusion of two germ cells of the parents, but from a single donor stem cell (and therefore genetically identical to the parent organism).

Stem cells are a kind of "blanks" of the body, which, if necessary, "specializes" - that is, it turns into cells of any internal organs and tissues, as needed. Actually, it is from stem cells that the entire embryo consists in the early stages of development.

In this case, scientists managed to "persuade" the stem cell to become an embryo of the parent organism - only at the very early stage of its development, when the entire embryo consists of a single fertilized egg.

Why is this even needed?

Synthetic embryos, only a few days or weeks old, could help researchers study the earliest stages of human development - and possibly solve the problem of infertility that many couples face. For example, it is at the very initial stages that pregnancy often ends suddenly without any obvious reasons. At the same time, the possibilities of studying the human embryo inside the maternal organism - and even at the very early stages of embryo formation - are extremely limited.

The study of artificial embryos in the laboratory will help solve this problem and (among other things) better understand the cause of early miscarriages.

How were the ethical and legal issues resolved?

Formally grown embryos do not fall under the legal definition of "embryo", since they were grown for two weeks - namely, this period is prescribed in the legislation of most countries as the maximum possible for experiments. By the end of the second week from the moment of conception, the brain has not yet begun to form in the embryo and the heartbeat is not heard - therefore, the experts do not face an ethical dilemma.

14 days after fertilization, the law requires that the surviving embryos be transplanted into the body of a surrogate mother. Or - in the event that the embryo was created solely for the needs of the experiment - destroy it.

What are the potential risks of the new technology?


There are no clear rules governing the cultivation of human embryos from stem cells today - but they are simply vital. The latest biotechnologies are becoming cheaper, and their use at home often does not even require special education.

"It's very important that research in this area be done carefully - carefully and transparently," said James Briscoe, professor at the Francis Crick Institute. "The danger is that oversights or unsubstantiated claims will have a chilling effect on the public and politicians, thus seriously harming the entire industry".

 

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