09 March 2021

Freedom for embryos!

Scientists call for lifting the ban on the study of human embryos

Georgy Golovanov, Hi-tech+

Now in many countries of the world there is a ban on experiments with human embryos that are more than 14 days old. A number of biologists and bioethicists consider this rule outdated and hindering research on ontogenesis. An increase in the allowable time for studying embryos can lead to important discoveries in the field of medicine and fertility. They propose to lift the ban and replace it with a cautious and controlled approach that will allow new scientific results to be obtained.

A group of bioethicists and scientists from around the world led by researchers from The Case University published an article in the journal Science, in which they appealed to legislators and the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) to consider a "careful, step-by-step approach" to scientific projects using human embryos whose life expectancy exceeds 14 days.

"But first," the authors write, "it is necessary to evaluate the scientific grounds for this. Any proposed project should serve important goals that cannot be adequately achieved by other means."

Among the potential advantages of studying human embryos after a 14-day period is the opportunity to understand how disorders occur in the development of various organs, and to develop therapies for the causes of infertility and malformations.

Since the first successful birth of a child as a result of artificial insemination in the late 1970s, studies of the human embryo have been limited to a 14-day period - during this time, the implantation of the embryo in the uterus is usually completed. Regulations of individual states and international norms prohibit scientists from cultivating human embryos older than two weeks, when the main tissues of the body begin to form and the embryo can no longer divide into identical twins. In other words, this prohibition allows scientists to study the embryo only until the acquisition of biologically unique traits.

The authors of the appeal propose to introduce six principles that can be used to remove the restriction in each specific case. For example, you should first make sure that the cultivation procedure is feasible, and then evaluate whether the experiments will be informative enough for the use of the embryo to be justified. Other principles include mandatory peer review by qualified and independent specialists and the need for an open discussion of the results.

"In reality, the proposed approach seems to be the only way forward, both from a scientific and legal point of view," the authors summarize.

ISSCR is going to release updated recommendations for stem cell and embryo research soon.

In 2019, the scientific community was excited by the news of the birth of the first GMO babies who had a gene removed from their DNA that made them vulnerable to HIV. The experiment was conducted by Chinese geneticist He Jiankui. Colleagues of the scientist called his experiments unethical, and the state sentenced him to three years in prison.

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