“Complete Human Embryo Model Grown by Scientists without Sperm or Egg”

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Creating an Embryo Model from Stem Cells

Scientists at the Weizmann Institute have successfully developed an embryo model that closely resembles a 14-day-old human embryo without utilizing sperm, eggs, or a womb. This groundbreaking achievement was accomplished using stem cells. The embryo model generated hormones that triggered a positive result in a pregnancy test during laboratory tests. The objective of creating embryo models is to ethically explore the early stages of human life.

Understanding Early Human Development

The initial weeks following fertilization are characterized by significant developmental changes, yet this period remains poorly understood and is associated with a high risk of miscarriage and birth defects. “It’s a black box, and that’s not a cliché—our knowledge is very limited,” notes Prof. Jacob Hanna from the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Embryo Research Challenges

Embryo research is fraught with legal, ethical, and technical complexities. However, researchers have been making strides in replicating natural embryo development. This particular study, published in Nature, is described by the Israeli team as the first “complete” embryo model, imitating all key structures that emerge during early embryo development.

The Innovative Process

Rather than using sperm and eggs, the researchers started with naive stem cells, which were reprogrammed to possess the potential to transform into any type of tissue in the body. Chemicals were employed to guide these stem cells into becoming four different cell types present in the earliest human embryos.

An Astonishing Phenomenon

Approximately 1% of the cell mixture spontaneously assembled into a structure resembling a human embryo. These embryo models were allowed to grow and develop until they resembled embryos 14 days after fertilization—a legal cutoff for embryo research in many countries.

Potential Applications and Ethical Considerations

Embryo models offer the promise of helping scientists understand the emergence of different cell types, witness the earliest organ-building processes, and study inherited or genetic diseases. They may also contribute to improving in vitro fertilization (IVF) success rates and testing the safety of medications during pregnancy.

However, the current 99% failure rate in assembling the model must be addressed to gain a deeper understanding of miscarriages and infertility.

Legal Distinctions and Ethical Boundaries

The research raises questions about whether embryo development could be replicated beyond the 14-day stage. While not illegal, this expansion would have ethical implications. The researchers emphasize that it would be unethical, illegal, and biologically impossible to achieve pregnancy using these embryo models, as they exceed the point at which an embryo could successfully implant in the womb lining.

SOURCE: Ref Image from The Times

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