17 December

Researchers urge for a discussion on the ethical and societal implications around human embryo models

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An international consortium led by Nicolas Rivron from the Hubrecht institute and the MERLN Institute (Maastricht University) and Martin Pera from the Jackson Laboratory, along with colleagues from the University of Toronto, the University of Cambridge, the University of Michigan, Utrecht University, the Case Western Reserve University, the University of Melbourne and the University of California discuss the future of synthetic embryology and urge for a discussion on the ethics, policies and regulations around the use of human embryo models. The article they wrote was published in Nature on the 12th of December.

The consortium combines stem cell biologists, ethicists and lawyers and points out that scientists are getting better at pushing stem cells to self-organize into 3D structures that increasingly resemble early embryos. At the moment, most of these models are made from mouse stem cells, but the translation to human stem cells is now on-going. These models create a range of opportunities in research that could lead to for instance improvement of IVF procedures and prevention of the appearance of chronic conditions for which the cause arises during pregnancy.

The development of embryo models however comes with ethical questions. Should embryo models be treated like human embryos both legally and ethically? And what type of research questions should be pursued using these models? Soon, clear regulations will be needed to ensure that promising avenues for research proceed with due caution.

The authors therefore propose solutions and urge for an international and interdisciplinary debate on these societal and ethical questions. Bioethicists, scientists, clinicians, legal and regulatory specialists, patient advocates and other citizens should contribute to build a consensus on a trajectory for this research field.

Debate ethics of embryo models from stem cells
Nicolas Rivron, Martin Pera, Janet Rossant, Alfonso Martinez Arias, Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, Jianping Fu, Susanne van den Brink, Annelien Bredenoord, Wybo Dondorp, Guido de Wert, Insoo Hyun, Megan Munsie & Rosario Isasi
Nature, 12 December 2018