June 20, 2005
Stem cells and fertility
From the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Copenhagen:
Scientists in Britain have shown that stem cells extracted from human embryos can develop in the laboratory into the early forms of cells that become eggs or sperm, raising the possibility that one day eggs and sperm needed for infertility treatment could be grown in a dish.
Preliminary experiments also suggest that scientists may eventually be able to use the technique to create a supply of eggs for cloning.
But the more immediate benefit of the work could be a better understanding why some men and women do not create their own sperm or eggs and whether toxic chemicals in the environment may play a role … “It may allow us to investigate the very earliest processes of how a human (ovary and testis) develops,” said Harry Moore, a professor of reproductive and developmental medicine at Sheffield University in England.
And this should send the religious right into paroxysms:
… The cloning technique, called cell nuclear replacement, involves emptying out the genetic material in an egg and replacing it with the genetic material of another cell, say a skin cell taken from an adult. Instead of being fertilized by sperm, the new reconstituted egg is then bathed in chemical nutrients and electrocuted to shock it into dividing. It then evolves into an embryo, from which stem cells can be extracted. For infertile couples, that approach would eliminate the need for donor sperm or eggs.
… “It opens new and challenging possibilities: because the technique can be used to generate eggs from a man’s (adult) cells, gay couples could have children genetically related to both,” said Anna Smajdor, a medical ethicist at Imperial College in London.
“Single men could even produce a child using their own sperm and an engineered egg, opening the way to a new form of cloning. Women’s fertility would no longer need to be curtailed at the menopause,” she said. “These possibilities raise new questions about how we define parenthood and about how we decide who has access to these new technologies.”
Not the kind of questions wingnuts like to ask.
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