Scientists are developing a controversial device that can mass-produce embryo-like structures that mimic early reproductive cells
- Scientists can create a large number of embryo-like structures with a new method
- The structures, called embryoids, are basic versions of fully-fledged embryos
- Scientists say they will not develop into human babies, but mimic early stages
- Structures can be used to study embryonic development and to test drugs
- Ethicists warn that the method can justify more control
- Skeptics are concerned that the new method could lead to laboratory-grown people
Scientists say they have designed a device that can produce a sort of basic human embryo quickly and efficiently.
In an article published in the journal Nature, American biologists describe a method capable of producing embryoids – a kind of synthetic, albeit primitive, embryo – at unrivaled speeds.
Using stem cells, the researchers say that they can create relatively many of the structures that mimic the early stages of human development.
Although embryoids have been produced in other laboratory environments, the new method – which scientists insist will not lead to the creation of a real embryo – represents a clear improvement in the efficiency with which scientists believe they are formed.
A new method for making synthetic embryo-like structures has raised the concern of some bioethicists who fear that this may pave the way for laboratory-grown people
& # 39; With this new system we can achieve superior efficiency to generate these human embryo-like structures & # 39 ;, said Jianping Fu, associate professor of biomedical technology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, who led the research. NPR.
With more ease and more of the structures, scientists say they can improve the science of embryonic development and further procedures such as in vitro fertilization, whereby an egg is combined with sperm outside the body and then implanted, once more fully developed.
In addition, they say that the structures can be used to test the effects of pharmaceutical drugs on pregnant women.
According to NPR, the device – a silicone square connected to a plate containing walls and a narrow channel – is capable of producing about a dozen embryoids in a few days.
Because multiple machines work simultaneously, researchers say they can make hundreds of embryoids in the same period.
Unlike other research using human embryos, the embryoids do not have the same ethical guidelines, namely the stipulation that scientists may no longer study them after 14 days of development.
This means that the structures can be studied for longer and more thoroughly.
Embryos as shown above have much stricter standards for when and for how long they can be studied compared to the synthetic embryoids.
Although the method can be a valuable tool for studying early stages of embryonic development, the performance has also raised concerns about where science is going and how close the field is to duplicating human life in a laboratory.
Despite the apparently good embryoids on future scientific research, some in the medical community have warned that the performance may be misinterpreted or may go a step too far.
& # 39; This team must be very careful not to model all aspects of the developing human embryo, so that they can avoid worrying that this embryo model could one day become a baby if you put it in the womb & # 39 ;, Insoo Hyun , a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University and Harvard Medical School told NPR.
With rapidly advancing research, the scientific community is starting to investigate further guidelines for embryoids.
Scientists claim that studies on embryoids should not undergo the same research as research on real human embryos, given the rudimentary design of the first.
"It's like putting four wheels on a frame and saying it's a car even though there's no engine," Fu said in an article on Nature.com.
Anyway, progress in the construction of embryos has led to an evaluation of exactly where ethical research guidelines fall and whether the field justifies stricter regulation.
As noted by NPR, the International Society for Stem Cell Research has recently begun to investigate its position on the creation of embryos.
& # 39; If these embryo models are complete and built to have all components of natural embryos, they must be subject to the same 14-day rule that limits research on natural human embryos, & # 39 ; Hyun told NPR.
& # 39; That is another reason not to model everything at once. & # 39;
HOW DOES IVF WORK?
In vitro fertilization, known as IVF, is a medical procedure in which a woman has introduced an already fertilized egg into her womb to conceive.
It is used when couples are unable to become pregnant naturally and a sperm and egg are removed from their bodies and combined in a laboratory before the embryo is introduced into the woman.
Once the embryo is in the womb, the pregnancy must continue as normal.
The procedure can be done using eggs and sperm from a couple or from donors.
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommend that IVF should be offered on the NHS to women younger than 43 who tried to conceive for two years through regular unprotected sex.
People can also pay privately for IVF, which costs an average of £ 3,348 for a single cycle, according to figures published in January 2018, and there is no guarantee of success.
The NHS says that the success rates for women under 35 are around 29 percent, with the chance of a successful cycle decreasing as they get older.
It is thought that around eight million babies were born due to IVF since the first case, the British wife Louise Brown, was born in 1978.
Chances of success
The success rate of IVF depends on the age of the woman being treated, as well as the cause of the infertility (if known).
Younger women are more likely to have a successful pregnancy.
IVF is usually not recommended for women older than 42 years because it is thought that the chances of a successful pregnancy are too low.
Between 2014 and 2016, the percentage of IVF treatments that resulted in a live birth was:
29 percent for women under 35
23 percent for women aged 35 to 37
15 percent for women from 38 to 39 years
9 percent for women aged 40 to 42
3 percent for women aged 43 to 44 years
2 percent for women older than 44
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