Quickly-advancing human embryo research raises prickly ethical questions

Credit: Maize
Credit: Maize

Nature published two peer-reviewed papers about generating in vitro, with slightly different methods, “blastoids” or “human blastocyst-like structures”… Notably, none of these groups of scientists grew their blastoids beyond the equivalent of 14 days of human development. All of them, however, clearly have that in their sights.

Where these technologies may lead remains unclear; there is even speculation about growing organs for transplants. Some people are certainly excited by the prospects, sometimes with a nod to “adequate ethical and societal reflection.” Others are more wary: Fyodor Urnov, a long-standing expert on gene editing tweeted that “this freaks me out as an editor.” 

Stanford University bioethicist and law professor Hank Greely questions how valuable the information gleaned about human embryonic development would be because of his skepticism “about how well ex vivo embryos, weeks past the time they normally must implant or die, will model implanted embryos.”

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Stuart Newman, New York Medical College developmental biologist and author, whom I asked for comment, took a broad view of the issues ahead:

“The one comment I have come up with that brings all the developments together is: “Humanity will become something else — an industrial or consumer product — if we start manufacturing people with tenuous, uncertain connections to other members of society.”

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Related article:  Viewpoint: How might the Biden Administration regulate heritable human gene editing?
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