Scientists have created synthetic human embryos using stem cells in a major scientific breakthrough
Experts believe the development could provide insight into the causes of miscarriage and unique aspects of human development but also raise ethical and legal questions.
Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, from the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology, described nurturing embryos to a stage equivalent to only 14 days of natural embryonic development at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Epidemiology. International Stem Cell in Boston on Wednesday.
According to the Guardian, the structure does not require eggs or sperm, does not have a beating heart or the beginning of a brain, but contains cells that normally develop to form the placenta, yolk sac and the embryo itself.
It is not yet known whether the synthetic models can develop into viable embryos if implanted.
The details have yet to be published in an article, The Guardian said.
Read more: Human cells grown in monkey embryos raise ethical concerns about ‘Pandora’s box’
Professor James Briscoe, associate director of research at the Francis Crick Institute, said it was impossible to comment in detail on the scientific significance without the peer-reviewed paper, but the development had “a lot of potential”.
“They can provide fundamental insight into the key stages of human development,” he said.
“These are very difficult periods to study and where many conceptions fail.
“New insight could lead to a better understanding of miscarriage causes and unique aspects of human development.”
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However, Professor Briscoe said it raised “deep” ethical and legal questions.
Read more: Scientists create synthetic mouse embryos that go on to develop brains, nerves and beating heart tissue
“Unlike human embryos arising from in vitro fertilization, where a regulatory framework is established, there are currently no clear regulations governing stem cell-derived models of human embryos.
“There is an urgent need for regulation to provide a framework for the creation and use of stem cell-derived models of human embryos.”
He said it was important that the study and researchers conduct it “with caution, care and transparency”.
“The danger is that missteps or preposterous statements will have a chilling effect on the public and policymakers,” he said.
“This is going to be a major setback for the sector.”