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Scientists Create Synthetic Mouse Embryos, a Step Towards Understanding Organ Development

By: Austin Deng

Recently, a group of Israli scientists created a synthetic mouse embryo in an artificial womb. This breakthrough could help scientists understand organ development. The extra insight into how organs develop could eventually allow for the creation of replacement organs for humans.

By manipulating stem cells into creating embryo-like structures, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science created embryos within rudimentary hearts, blood circulation, brain tissue, and intestinal tracts. The embryos developed for about a third of a normal mouse pregnancy before they stopped developing.

As synthetic embryos get more and more advanced, ethical issues grow regarding when synthetic embryos should receive the same protections as real ones grow. According to Jacob Hanna, the scientist that led the research, the embryos were similar to natural mouse embryos, but not exactly the same. The embryos don’t have the potential to develop into live animals.

The research also put the possibility of a human synthetic embryo on the horizon. Last year, the International Society for Stem Cell Research revised its historical “14 day rule” that stated researchers could only grow natural embryos for 14 days. The revision allowed researchers to receive permission for longer studies.

Hanna said that his hope was that the new technology would improve our understanding of organ structures and help create replacement organs for people who need them.

“Our goal is not making pregnancy outside the uterus, whether it’s mice or any species,” Hanna said. “We are really facing difficulties making organs — and in order to make stem cells become organs, we need to learn how the embryo does that.”

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