Stem cell embryos as a spare parts warehouse

The type of medicine that deals with life extenders is also known as longevity medicine. An Israeli-based biotechnology company wants to take drastic measures in this area and artificially create embryonic human beings to obtain tissue for transplants.

Photo: 2-cell, Bruno Vellutini, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Like from a science fiction movie

The startup is called Renewal Bio and uses the latest achievements in stem cell technology and the so-called artificial uterus. A similar procedure was presented by Jacob Hanna, a biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. For example, a scientist has shown that he can use mouse stem cells in a laboratory to create realistic-looking mouse embryos that can then grow in an artificial uterus for days, and then have beating hearts, blood flow, and a cranial fold.

The experiment is the first: this is the first time that such an advanced embryo was created without the use of sperm, egg cells and a real uterus. “This experiment has huge implications. You may be wondering which mammal might be next in linecommented Bernard Siegel of the World Stem Cell Summit.

Hanna himself says that she is already working on transferring technology to human cells. The goal is to create artificial human embryos that approximate 50 days of pregnancy. At this point, the basic organs and tiny limbs are already forming.

Various possibilities

An embryo – even an artificial one – builds the body naturally. “Can we use these organized embryonic units with early organs to obtain cells that can be used for transplantation? We see this as a potentially universal starting pointHanna said.

For example, embryonic blood cells can be used to support and revitalize the immune system of the elderly. Another version is to create an embryonic copy of a woman with age-related infertility and use it to create healthy, “young” eggs for fertilization.

However, the Renewal Bio team does not want to disclose how these visions are to be technically implemented. “We don’t want to promise too much and we don’t want to scare people– said Omri Amirav-Drory, CEO of the startup.

Amazing resemblance to real embryos

According to Hanna, the current experiments with artificial mouse embryos are already very close to the natural model. According to preliminary analyzes, the similarity is 95 percent – at least when you look at individual cells.

However, the methods of creating artificial embryos are still relatively ineffective. Less than one in 100 experiments with mouse embryos have been successful. And even those who have developed have successfully developed abnormalities such as heart problems.

Try your own cells

The next test series planned by Hanna is ambitious. He wants to use his own blood or skin cells to create synthetic human embryos. Hanna herself is not bothered by the idea of ​​her thousands of artificial genetic clones, she considers artificial embryos to be “futureless creatures” that are incapable of living. The transition from the tube to the real life is not possible anyway because the placenta and the umbilical connection to the mother are missing.

ethical challenges

However, the debate over whether synthetic embryos have any rights seems inevitable as this technology advances. A related question is whether, from an ethical point of view, they can provide basic material for medicine and science at all.

Hanna has already noticed this problem and is wondering how to avoid ethical dilemmas. “We believe it is important and we have invested a lot in it“, he says. For example, it would be possible to apply genetic modification to prevent the formation of the heart, lungs or brain and thus limit the life potential of the embryo.

Still a long way to go

Renewal Bio has already obtained a license for the necessary technologies from the Weizmann Institute, and now intends to invest in improving incubator technology and embryo monitoring techniques. Amirav-Drory points out that the company is still at an early stage and has yet to figure out what the technology can be used for. There is still a lot of research and discussion to be done before we can treat people with products made from artificial embryos.

by the Weizmann Institute of Science

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