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Artificial Mouse Embryo Might be the Key to Treating Human Diseases.

By: Chenwei Ren

An artificial womb was used to grow synthetic mouse embryos in eight days by stem cell researchers in Israel. This breakthrough provides a glimpse into an intriguing, contentious area of science that one day may be used to create human replacement organs.

The primary objective, according to the researchers, is not to produce mice or children outside the womb, but rather to advance our understanding of how organs develop in emb and use that understanding to create novel therapeutic approaches.

The discovery, which has taken a decade to develop, comes in a field where efforts to create embryo models from human and mouse cells are numerous. These models allow researchers to examine the earliest stages of embryonic development and the formation of organs.

But as the models become more like the real thing, they also venture into morally ambiguous territory. When do artificial embryos resemble real ones enough to merit protections comparable to those given to actual embryos?

“This is an important landmark in our understanding of how embryos build themselves,” Alfonso Martinez Arias, a developmental biologist at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona who is not involved in the research, said in an email. He called the experiment a “game changer.”

The study, published on Monday in the journal Cell, is a long way from successfully growing a mouse, let alone a human, outside the womb. While the researchers were successful in creating a complete synthetic embryo from embryonic stem cells as a proof of concept, it was a very error-prone process, and only a small percentage of the embryos went on to develop the earliest stages of a beating heart and other organs.

According to several researchers, the study, like other latest research, raises the possibility of a fully developed human synthetic embryo, necessitating the continuation of a societal conversation about how these entities should be handled. The "14-day rule," which stated that scientists could only grow natural embryos for 14 days in the lab, was relaxed by the International Society for Stem Cell Research last year, allowing scientists to request permission for longer studies. It is forbidden to implant human embryo models in a mother's womb.

For many years, repairing the body with its own tissues has been the main goal of stem cell therapy. The possibility of using stem cells to repair spinal cord injuries, patch damaged hearts, or cure diabetes has been alluring because stem cells can develop into any tissue or organ. But transforming those cells into complicated, functional tissue has proven difficult. The researchers are hoping that observing this process take place during the early stages of development will yield crucial information.

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