What models of human embryos made from stem cells could be useful for?
Over the past few years, scientists have reported remarkable progress on the generation of embryo models made from stem cells in a dish. These models form spontaneously by unleashing the potential of stem cells to self-organize. In the case of the mouse, embryo models named blastoids1 can form structures similar to the embryonic and extra-embryonic tissues (the future placenta) necessary for implantation in the uterus. Such models have great potential benefits for understanding early human development in the lab and for biomedical applications. For example, they might be useful to inform on how to improve IVF embryo culture and develop new drugs to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.
In the current Stem Cell Reports forum article2 and previous Nature comment3, scientists discuss the current state of research, the potential benefits to human health, the state of the regulation, and propose recommendations for research oversight. "I feel that it is important that scientists think deeply and openly about the societal and ethical implications of their discoveries and of the boundaries that might need to be set" says Nicolas Rivron, a group leader at IMBA and co-author on these articles. These pieces are meant to be read not only by scientists, but also by the community at large.
Nicolas Rivron Labsites: https://www.imba.oeaw.ac.at/research/nicolas-rivron/
1. Rivron, N. C. et al. Blastocyst-like structures generated solely from stem cells. Nature 557, 106–111 (2018). LINK.
2. Hyun, I et al. Towards guidelines for research on human embryo models formed from stem cells. Stem cell reports, 13, 7 (2020). LINK
3. Rivron, N. et al. Debate ethics of embryo models from stem cells. Nature 564, 183–185 (2018). LINK.