This work summarizes “artificial embryos formed from stem cells developed outside the womb”. Posted this week in the cellone of the largest scientific journals in biology.
The experiment was conducted in an Israeli laboratory, under the guidance of the Palestinian Yacoub Hanna, and achieved unprecedented success, in a field of research that appeared a few years ago.
It is about developing structures close to the embryo in the laboratory, extracting single cells from an animal and working on them without any fertilization procedure.
The last major breakthrough in this field dates back to 2018. At that time, researchers – led by Frenchman Nicolas Revron – were able to grow stem cells into a group similar to a very early embryo, the “blastocyst”. But at this stage, the cells of the fetus are no different from those that will form a future placenta.
Jacob Hanna’s team went above and beyond. It has developed structures similar to an eight-day-old mouse fetus, one-third of the gestation period and around the time the organs begin to differentiate.
To do this, the researchers extracted skin cells from mice and then artificially restored them to a stem cell state, which is able to differentiate into different organs. They were placed in a nutrient bath, constantly shaken and fed with oxygen to reproduce the conditions of the mother’s womb as closely as possible.
As a result, a small part of the cells organized themselves, based on their own information, to form organs. It’s a breakthrough never seen before, but it’s not about the discovery of artificial life.
In most cases, the experiment failed, and even when it was successful, the result was a group too distorted to be considered a true fetus.
Some scientists even disagree with the term “artificial fetus.” “They are not embryos,” says French researcher Laurent David, an expert in stem cell development. “Unless proven otherwise, they do not produce a viable individual capable of procreation,” he says.
The researcher, who prefers the term “embryos,” notes that they only provide “diagrams” of organs. However, he praised the “new and very attractive” work, with the potential for experiments to better understand how organs develop.
Any hope for a transplant?
These trials are crucial so that one day stem cells can develop and form limbs that can be transplanted without having to take them from a donor. It’s not just another theoretical possibility.
Several years ago, researchers were able to develop an artificial intestine in the lab that would function once it was transplanted into a mouse. In humans, this perspective remains science fiction, although Jacob Hanna believes his research paves the way directly for this progress. And for this, he founded a startup called Renewal.
Other researchers argue that it is still too early to consider therapeutic advances, although they acknowledge that this research forms an important building block. But they caution that the next logical step would be to obtain similar results from human cells, paving the way for ethical questions about the place these “embryos” should be given.
“Although we are still far from the perspective of artificial human embryos, it will be necessary to have broad discussions about the legal and ethical implications of this research,” summarizes British researcher James Briscoe, an expert on embryonic development at the Science Media Center.
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