An international team of scientists “reported the successful in-vitro cultivation of human embryos for 13 days before halting the experiment to comply with scientific recommendations relating to embryo research which are currently in force in several countries”. The results of their study were published on Wednesday in the Nature and Nature Cell Biology journal. They explain that they have “developed new culturing techniques that mimic the uterine environment”.
Reproduction biologists view these results as “a step forward” which “could improve the chances of a successful outcome with assisted fertilisation and help to understand premature miscarriage”. Others hope “to investigate the potential causes of autism and discover why chemical products in the environment might affect embryo development”.
The embryos which were developed in vitro for 13 days had “no contact with maternal cells, which demonstrates the possibility of human embryo self-development,” concluded Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, in charge of the studies conducted in Great Britain. However, she “is not certain that the embryos studied developed in the same way as those that develop in the womb”. She previously carried out the same studies in mice.
In an in-vitro fertilisation protocol, the embryos “must be implanted in the womb within seven days in order to survive”. Embryo research is authorised up to the 14th day in the United States, Great Britain and Australia. This is an “international consensus based on a form of ethical pragmatism and some laboratory data”. However, many of the scientists involved want to “extend the set limit for in-vitro embryo development by two days in order to study the third stage in embryo formation”.
The Nuffield Council of Bioethics in the United Kingdom has announced that “it will examine this ethical question very soon”.
AFP (4/05/2016); Jean Yves Nau (5/05/2016)