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Is It Time for an 'Ethical Discussion'? British Scientists Build Artificial Embryos Using Stem Cells

07-24-2018

Several media outlets have reported that Cambridge University scientists have built artificial embryos using stem cells from mice.

The scientists grew the self-replicating structures in a laboratory, bypassing the fertilization process. 

Although the experiment has opened up new efforts in embryo research never before possible, it has also brought with it major ethical implications.

Researchers say growing these embryos in a lab would help them study better understand early human development.  

According to The Irish News, one expert said any artificial embryos made from human stem cells would have to be the subject of an "ethical discussion."

Trying to create a human baby from this technique is outlawed in the United Kingdom.

According to the university, a team of scientists led by Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, published a study in the journal Nature Cell Biology where Zernicka-Goetz describes developing the embryo-like structures further, using not just two but three types of stem cells which let them reconstruct a process known as gastrulation.

Gastrulation is an essential step in which an embryo divides into three distinct layers that determine the future fate of its cells.

Dr. Christophe Galichet, from the Frances Crick Institute in London, told The Irish Examiner, "It is not too far-fetched to think the technique could one day be applied to studying early human embryos."

"These self-assembled human embryos would be an invaluable tool to understand early human development as well as understanding when things go wrong, but we are not there yet," he said.

"Furthermore, an ethical discussion would need to assess the status of these self-organized embryos if the method described in this paper did work with human stem cells," Galichet added.

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