Scientists deposit a synthetic embryo into a microplane. Photo: voanews

With the beginning of August came an immense scientific breakthrough: synthetic embryos. According to VOA News, scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel were said to have found a way to create mouse embryo-like structures from mere stem cells in a lab. Made without the fertilization of eggs, this process provides an understanding of how organs and tissues form within the development of natural embryos. Scientists began the experiment by retrieving skin cells from mice and returning them to a stem cell state. These stem cells were then placed in an incubator that mimicked the cells of a mouse womb. After eight days, the embryos stopped growing. With only 50 embryos out of the 10,000 total beginning to take on embryo-like structures 95 percent similar to an actual mouse embryo, error was revealed. But this idea of creating an embryo without the presence of sperm or eggs reveals a potential key to healing humans in the future with life-saving transplants. As stated in the Washington Post, the objective of this experiment has little to do with creating mouse babies outside the womb, but rather identifying an efficient healing method for humans. 

Grown in an artificial-womb for eight days, this development mirrors a process to create replacement organs for humans. These embryonic stem cells resembled a true mouse embryo, containing intestinal tissues, beating hearts and blood circulation. However, representing only about a third of a mouse pregnancy, the takeaways from the experiment lack clarity. But according to developmental biologist at Pompeu Fabra University Alfonso Martinez Arias, “This is an important landmark in our understanding of how embryos build themselves.” While the experiment can not directly translate to the same success in humans, being that only a fraction of the mouse embryos developed actual functions, it allows scientists to continue dissecting the idea of it.  

According to the Guardian, Prof Jacob Hanna, a Palestinian who led the research project, founded a company by the name of Renewal Bio. Hanna claims his company will “be focusing on testing potential clinical applications of human synthetic embryoids.” While receiving ethical permission from the Israeli government, scientists such as Arias claim that it “opens the door to similar studies with human cells.” He also explains that “there are many regulatory hoops to get through, and from the point of view of the experiments, human systems lag behind mouse systems.” Continuing in accordance with Stat News, Prof Paul Tesar, a geneticist at Cave Western Reserve University, claims that with the development of these synthetic embryos, the more synthetic and natural embryos begin to merge. “As scientists and as a society, we need to come together to decide what is ethically acceptable,” said Tesar. 

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