Researchers in Israel have created the world’s first “synthetic embryos” in a landmark study, without using sperm or egg cells.
Scientists at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel, were able to make stem cells taken from mice form early embryo-like structures, including a gastrointestinal tract, a beating heart, and the early stages of a brain. The embryos are considered “synthetic” because they were not derived from a fertilized egg — but preliminary results suggest that “synthetic embryos” are fairly similar to natural embryos.
“Remarkably, we show that embryonic stem cells generate whole synthetic embryos, meaning this includes the placenta and yolk sac surrounding the embryo,” said Dr. Jacob Hanna, who headed the study. “We are truly excited about this work and its implications.”
Researchers believe that this breakthrough could offer alternatives to animal experimentation and pave the way for new stem cell growth for human transplants. Skin cells could be potentially transformed into bone marrow stem cells, for example, to help treat patients suffering from leukemia. The demand for donated organs often outstrips the supply, and the immune system naturally attacks foreign cells, requiring already weakened patients to take immunosuppressant drugs after a transplant. Being able to grow tissues from a patient’s DNA could bypass many of the compatibility issues current transplants face and greatly increase the availability of the treatment.
The synthetic embryos are not thought to have the potential to develop into fully-formed animals, and only 0.5% of the observed stem cells combined to grow distinctive tissue, although those tissues seemed fully functional and “95%” similar to natural tissues in basic structure. (Read more from “Scientists Create the First Synthetic Embryos” HERE)
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