World Economic Forum-linked researchers have announced a breakthrough in creating human embryos using stem cells, without the need for eggs or sperm, raising serious ethical and legal questions about the future of human reproduction.
The lab-grown human embryos were produced in a joint project between Cambridge University and the California Institute of Technology and replicate natural embryos in the earliest stages of human development.
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Last week the World Economic Forum promised a future in which lab-grown humans will be controlled for compliant traits. That future appears to have arrived sooner than many people expected.
According to the researchers, the do not have the beginnings of a brain or a beating heart, but do include cells which will go on to form the placenta and yolk sac, leading to fears the embryos could be used for organ harvesting.
According to the Daily Mail: The synthetic embryos are not covered by laws in the UK or in most countries around the world, meaning that they come with serious ethical and legal issues regarding the use of human embryos in a lab.
Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, a fellow at the University of Cambridge, described the work yesterday at the International Society for Stem Cell Research’s annual meeting in Boston: ‘We can create human embryo-like models by the reprogramming of [embryonic stem] cells.’
Before the talk, she told The Guardian: ‘It’s beautiful and created entirely from embryonic stem cells.’
While it is not yet clear if the synthetic embryos could continue developing beyond their early stages, implanting them into a patient’s womb would be illegal and there is no near-term prospect of them being used for medical purposes.
Robin Lovell-Badge, the head of stem cell biology and developmental genetics at the Francis Crick Institute in London, told The Guardian: ‘The idea is that if you really model normal human embryonic development using stem cells you can gain an awful lot of information about how we begin development, what can go wrong, without having to use early embryos for research.’
Discussing the ethical issues surrounding the findings, he added: ‘If the whole intention is that these models are very much like normal embryos, then, in a way, they should be treated the same.
‘Currently in legislation they’re not. People are worried about this.’
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