Embryo Experiments Reveal Earliest Human Development, But Stir Ethical Debate

Mar 2, 2017

By Rob Stein

Ali Brivanlou slides open a glass door at the Rockefeller University in New York to show off his latest experiments probing the mysteries of the human embryo.

“As you can see, all my lab is glass — just to make sure there is nothing that happens in some dark rooms that gives people some weird ideas,” says Brivanlou, perhaps only half joking.

Brivanlou knows that some of his research makes some people uncomfortable. That’s one reason he has agreed to give me a look at what’s going on.

His lab and one other discovered how to keep human embryos alive in lab dishes longer than ever before — at least 14 days. That has triggered an international debate about a long-standing convention (one that’s legally binding in some countries, though not in the U.S.) that prohibits studying human embryos that have developed beyond the two-week stage.

Ali Brivanlou’s research team at Rockefeller University in New York was one of two groups internationally that figured out how to keep human embryos alive in lab dishes beyond the 14-day stage of development.

And in other experiments, he’s using human stem cells to create entities that resemble certain aspects of primitive embryos. Though Brivanlou doesn’t think these “embryoids” would be capable of developing into fully formed embryos, their creation has stirred debate about whether embryoids should be subject to the 14-day rule.

Continue reading by clicking the name of the source below.

5 comments on “Embryo Experiments Reveal Earliest Human Development, But Stir Ethical Debate

  • @OP – And in other experiments, he’s using human stem cells to create entities that resemble certain aspects of primitive embryos. Though Brivanlou doesn’t think these “embryoids” would be capable of developing into fully formed embryos, their creation has stirred debate about whether embryoids should be subject to the 14-day rule.

    There is a need for a scientific and medical debate, although I have the feeling that the “champion defenders of souls” will want to have some unhelpful dogmatic ignorance input, into that debate!



    Report abuse

  • Meanwhile – gene editing seems to have some very useful medical applications!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-39142971

    A French teenager’s sickle cell disease has been reversed using a pioneering treatment to change his DNA.

    The world-first procedure at Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris offers hope to millions of people with the blood disorder.

    Scientists altered the genetic instructions in his bone marrow so it made healthy red blood cells.

    So far, the therapy has worked for 15 months and the child is no longer on any medication.

    Sickle cell disease causes normally round red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body, to become shaped like a sickle.

    These deformed cells can lock together to block the flow of blood around the body. This can cause intense pain, organ damage and can be fatal.

    The teenager who received the treatment had so much internal damage he needed to have his spleen removed and his hips replaced.

    Every month he had to go into hospital to have a blood transfusion to dilute his defective blood.

    But when he was 13, doctors at the Necker Children’s Hospital in Paris did something unique.
    ‘No sign of disease’

    Doctors removed his bone marrow – the part of the body that makes blood. They then genetically altered it in a lab to compensate for the defect in his DNA that caused the disease.

    Sickle cell is caused by a typo in the instructions for making the protein haemoglobin, which is densely packed into red blood cells.

    A virus was used to infect the bone marrow with new, correct instructions.

    The corrected bone marrow was then put back into the patient.

    The results in the New England Journal of Medicine showed the teenager has been making normal blood since the procedure 15 months ago.

    Philippe Leboulch, a professor of medicine at the University of Paris, told the BBC News website: “So far the patient has no sign of the disease, no pain, no hospitalisation. He no longer requires a transfusion so we are quite pleased with that.

    “But of course we need to perform the same therapy in many patients to feel confident that it is robust enough to propose it as a mainstream therapy.”



    Report abuse

  • From the article that Alan posted above in #2:

    Sickle cell is caused by a typo in the instructions for making the protein haemoglobin
    Innate immunity to malaria

    I don’t think it’s a “typo”. Read about the potential connection between sickle cell and the possibility of adaptive immunity against malaria:

    http://www.nature.com/nri/journal/v4/n3/abs/nri1311.html

    Mary M. Stevenson1 & Eleanor M. Riley2

    Abstract

    Malaria is a major cause of disease and death in tropical countries. A safe and effective vaccine is essential to achieve significant and sustained reductions in malaria-related morbidity and mortality. Driven by this need, research on the immunology of malaria has tended to focus on adaptive immunity. The potential for innate immune mechanisms to provide rapid protection against malaria has been largely neglected. On the basis of data from animal models, and clinical and epidemiological studies, this review considers the potential for innate immune mechanisms directed against Plasmodium parasites both to contribute to protection from malaria and to modulate adaptive immune responses.

    Interesting about the French teen’s case though, Alan.



    Report abuse

  • It looks like this 3 person embryology is about to become an established medical treatment of inherited diseases!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-39292381

    Doctors in Newcastle have been given the first UK licence to create babies from two women and one man, the fertility regulator says.

    The advanced form of IVF will be used to prevent children dying from genetic diseases.

    The team at the Newcastle Fertility Centre said it was “good news” and a “momentous day” for patients.

    And realistically expect the first child to be born in 2018 at the earliest.

    The procedure aims to overcome mitochondrial diseases which leave people with insufficient energy to keep their heart beating.

    Some families have lost multiple children to the disease.

    It is passed down from only the mother – so a technique using a donor egg as well as the mother’s egg and father’s sperm has been developed.

    The resulting child has a tiny amount of their DNA from the donor, but the procedure is legal and reviews say it is ethical and scientifically ready.

    The UK Fertility Regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, must approve every clinic and every patient before the procedure can take place.

    The team in Newcastle anticipates helping 25 couples every year.

    Prof Sir Doug Turnbull, the director of the Wellcome Centre for mitochondrial research at Newcastle University, said: “I am delighted for patients as this will allow women with mitochondria DNA mutations the opportunity for more reproductive choice.

    “Mitochondria diseases can be devastating for families affected and this is a momentous day for patients who have tirelessly campaigned for this decision.”

    Three-person babies have been allowed only in cases where the risk of a child developing mitochondrial disease is very high.

    Mitochondrial disease is caused by defective mitochondria – the tiny structures in nearly every cell that convert food into useable energy.

    One in 4,300 children are born with such severe symptoms they develop muscle weakness, blindness, deafness, seizures, learning disabilities, diabetes, heart and liver failure. It is often fatal.

    The aim of the procedure is to get the healthy mitochondria from the donor.

    But mitochondria have their own DNA, which is why resulting children have DNA from three people.



    Report abuse

  • Meanwhile – time scales are being extended!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-42420864

    A baby has been born from an embryo frozen for nearly 25 years – possibly the longest gap between conception and birth since IVF began.

    The embryo was donated by a family in the US and has become the first child for a woman who would herself have been only one when the baby was conceived.

    The donated embryo that would become Emma Wren Gibson, a healthy baby girl, was thawed in March and transferred to mum Tina Gibson’s uterus.

    Emma was born in November.

    “Do you realise I’m only 25? This embryo and I could have been best friends,” Mrs Gibson, now 26, of eastern Tennessee told CNN.

    “I just wanted a baby. I don’t care if it’s a world record or not,” she added.

    The faith-based National Embryo Donation Center provided the fertilised embryo, which doctors there refer to as “snow babies” because of how long they are kept frozen.

    The organisation encourages couples who do not want additional children to donate unneeded embryos after their families are complete, so that other couples can try to become parents.

    Baby Emma was conceived in October 1992 – a year and half after her mum’s own birth.

    The 24-year-old embryo is believed to have been cryopreserved for longer than any other viable human embryo.

    “Emma is such a sweet miracle,” Mr Gibson said.

    “I think she looks pretty perfect to have been frozen all those years ago.”

    Neither parent is biologically related to their new daughter.



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.