An international group of scientists has issued new guidelines that overcome a decades-old hurdle for stem cell research
LONDON – New guidelines released on Wednesday overcome a decade-old barrier to stem cell research, recommending that researchers be allowed to grow human embryos for a longer period of time under limited circumstances.
Some researchers have supported modifying the rule to further study the development process, while detractors state that such experiments at any level cross moral boundaries and it is unclear whether the change will advance research.
The original range was arbitrary and prevented the study of a significant period in fetal development – typically between 14 and 28 days, said Robin Lowell-Badge, a stem cell specialist at London’s Crick Institute and the group’s president behind the new guidelines .
“We think a lot of congenital abnormalities are developing very quickly during this period,” Lovell-Badge said. “By better understanding these early stages, it can allow us to adopt simple procedures to reduce the amount of suffering.”
The guidelines were last updated in 2016 by the International Society for Stem Cell Research, whose standards are widely accepted by countries, medical journals, and the research community. It did not specify how long the embryo could be grown.
For scientists in the UK to start making embryos after two weeks, the law governing such research would have to be changed. Any relaxation of the rule would still require “strong review” by national regulators, Lovell-Badge said.
Expanding human embryonic research is “not a green light” for scientists, said Kathy Niacan of the University of Cambridge, who helped draft the guidelines, saying it would be “irresponsible.”
Niakan said that a public dialogue involving scientists, regulators, funders and the public should be held to discuss any possible objections. He said that there should be widespread public support before the work could proceed and countries could also use a special inspection process to weigh the scientific merits of the research.
Marcy Dernowski, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, said the scientific justification of the new guidelines is still lacking.
“When an embryo is outside the body in a petri dish, will you really be able to tell anything meaningful about abortion or fetal development?” he said.
Darnowski was also concerned that the guidelines do not place any limits on how long human embryos could potentially develop.
The society also advised on other controversial stem cell issues, which require stricter inspection to transfer human embryos into the uterus after mitochondrial donation – a process where two eggs and one sperm are used to make embryos .
The guidelines, for now, forbid any genetic editing that would pass the changes to future generations – similar to work by Chinese scientist He Jianqui, who announced in 2018 that he had shocked the world, He created the first gene-edited children.
Such work is currently banned, but Lowell-Badge and others acknowledged that it may be allowed one day “if it proves to be safe enough and is used in limited circumstances,” Center for Said Hank Greeley, director of law and biosciences. At Stanford University.
The guidelines also prohibit human cloning, transferring human embryos into an animal uterus, and the creation of human-animal chimers, stating that such work “lacks scientific rationale or is morally related.”
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