A biotech company wants to create “synthetic” human embryos that would be used to harvest organs to facilitate transplants and treat conditions such as infertility, genetic diseases and aging, researchers said.
The Israel-based company, Renewal Bio, claimed it has successfully used advanced stem cell technology and artificial wombs to grow mouse embryos that continued to develop over several days.
The embryos stayed alive until they developed beating hearts, blood flow and the beginnings of a brain, according to MIT Technology Review.
It is believed to be the first time a “synthetic” embryo has been created and kept at such an advanced stage without the use of sperm, eggs, or a uterus.
Jacob Hanna, a researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, and the founder of Renewal Bio, now wants to apply the same technology to human embryos. He published the results of his work in the journal Cell.
“The embryo is the best organ making machine and the best 3D bioprinter — we’ve tried to match what it does,” he said.
He told the Guardian that his scientists’ process could help people better understand organ formation in its earliest stages.
“Remarkably, we show that embryonic stem cells generate whole synthetic embryos, meaning this includes the placenta and the yolk sac surrounding the embryo,” Hanna told the British publication.
“We are very excited about this work and its implications.”
Hanna told the Guardian the synthetic embryos weren’t “real” because they didn’t have the potential to develop into real animals.
Renewal Bio aims to mimic the process with human embryos that would serve as a source of tissues and cells that could be used to treat various medical conditions.
The company’s website touts its mission to reverse “falling birth rates and rapidly aging populations.”
“To solve these complex and complex problems, Renewal Bio aims to make humanity younger and healthier by leveraging the power of new stem cell technology,” the company’s website said.
“In Israel and many other countries, such as the US and the UK, it is legal and we have ethical approval to do this with human-induced pluripotent stem cells,” Hanna said.
“This provides an ethical and technical alternative to using embryos.”
Observers concerned about the ethical implications say government regulation may be needed to ensure that the technological advances that enable the replication of human embryos are not misused.
“There will always be a gray area,” Prof. Paul Tesar, a geneticist at Case Western Reserve University, told StatNews.
“But as scientists and as a society, we need to come together to decide where the line is and determine what is ethically acceptable.”
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