Rael-Science in one of its recent posts, revealed that scientists have invented a device that can quickly produce large numbers of living entities that resemble very primitive human embryos.
Researchers welcomed the development, described in the journal Nature, as an important advance for studying the earliest days of human embryonic development. But it also raises questions about where to draw the line in manufacturing “synthetic” human life.
Other scientists have previously created synthetic embryos, which are also known as embryoids. These entities are made by coaxing human stem cells to form structures found in very early human embryos. The research has raised questions about how similar to complete embryos they could and should be allowed to become.
“This new system allows us to achieve a superior efficiency to generate these human embryo-like structures”, says Jianping Fu, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who led the research.
“Such human embryo-like structures have a lot of potential to open what we call the so-called black box of human development”, Fu says.
He’s referring to the first few weeks after a sperm fertilises an egg, when the embryo is inside a woman’s body and hard to study. A long-standing guideline bars scientists from conducting research on embryos in their labs beyond 14 days of development for ethical reasons.
Fu says the ability to produce large numbers of embryoids, which are not subject to the 14-day guideline, will hopefully provide scientists with new insights into important health issues, including how to prevent birth defects and miscarriages. In addition, researchers could use the embryoids to screen drugs, to help determine whether the medications are safe for pregnant women to take.
“Such research can lead to a lot of good”, Fu says.