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Israeli scientists have made a breakthrough in science by creating embryo-like structures without sperm or eggs. The discovery sparked a debate about the ethics of such research.
Scientists from the Israeli Weizmann Institute of Science found that mouse stem cells can independently assemble into early embryonic structures with an intestinal tract, brain buds and heart, writes the Guardian. The embryos they created were called synthetic, since fertilized eggs are not needed for their production.
It is expected that this discovery will help to better understand the process of formation of organs and tissues during the development of natural embryos. The researchers also believe that their work will reduce the number of animal experiments and ultimately pave the way for new sources of cells and tissues for human transplantation. For example, the technology could transform skin cells into bone marrow stem cells to treat leukemia
“We show that embryonic stem cells generate whole synthetic embryos, including the placenta and yolk sac surrounding the embryo,” said Head of the study, Professor Jacob Hanna — We are really excited about this work and its implications.
How did the researchers proceed?
Some cells were pretreated with chemicals that included genetic programs to develop into the placenta or yolk sac, while others developed without intervention.
Most stem cells failed to form embryonic structures, but about 0.5 % united into small balls, from which individual tissues and organs grew.
In comparison with natural mouse embryos, the internal structure and genetic profiles of the cells of synthetic embryos were 95% identical.
Hannah was already featured in the world's media in 2021, when he and the same team built a mechanical womb that allowed natural mouse embryos to develop.
Now he founded Renewal Bio, whose goal is to grow synthetic human embryos to obtain tissues and cells for the treatment of various diseases.
“In Israel and many other countries such as the US and the UK, this is legal and provides an ethical and a technical alternative to the use of embryos,” Hanna said.
At the same time, his colleague at the British Francis Crick Institute, James Briscoe, believes that it is important to discuss now how best to regulate such activities before they are created human synthetic embryos.
“Now is the time to consider the best legal and ethical framework for regulating the research and use of human synthetic embryos and update existing regulations,” he said.
Geneticist Paul Tesar emphasizes that the more scientists work with embryos derived from stem cells, improving technologies, the less will be the difference between synthetic and natural embryos.
“Scientists and society must come together to decide where the line is and what is ethically acceptable,” he stressed.