TL;DR (2-minute read)
- Scientists studied a lab-grown embryo 3 weeks after fertilization when a process called “gastrulation” took place, and they found various types of cells they expected to find in a growing embryo, but they were unable to find neurons in the embryo.
- Many lab-grown embryos fail during gastrulation, so this research is particularly important in finding the problems that take place and why they fail – scientists now believe it has something to do with the lack of neurons in the growing embryo.
- This raises debates about whether there should be moral debate over researching on lab-grown embryos. On the one hand, many argue that it’s immoral to test and research on unconsenting babies. On the other hand, it could potentially lead to ground-breaking discoveries that could save thousands of others’ lives.
Despite European laws that prevent scientists from researching lab-grown embryos for more than 14 days, they have found a way to conduct a rare study on a 3-week old embryo. Gastrulation is described as a developmental process where an embryo grows from a single layer of epithelial cells to a multilayered structure called the gastrula. It’ll create three primary germ layers which all contribute to various systems and functions needed for a species to survive, like the circulatory system and musculoskeletal system.
As expected, researchers were able to find various types of cells, like red blood cells and other germ cells that make way for sperm or egg cells, where they were supposed to be. But the most peculiar part was that they weren’t able to find any neurons. Neurons are extremely important in the developmental period and in one’s everyday life because they are used to send information and messages to different areas of the brain. Without them, embryos aren’t able to sense their environment.
Robin Lovell-Badge, an expert at London’s Francis Crick Institute says these kinds of studies are “…incredibly important to understand not just how we develop normally but how things go wrong.” It’s common for embryos to fail and miscarry at this stage in their development and these rare studies can make a large difference for pregnancies. Scientists also hope that these studies can be used to develop stem cells into other types of cells that can help battle against diseases.
Even though the study holds much promise for the future of science, debates on its morality have taken place all over the United States. In terms of embryonic stem cell research, most pro-lifers and pro-life organizations argue that life begins right at conception. Since the embryo could be destroyed when being used in a lab, they argue that it is morally unjust to conduct research on embryos. Furthermore, they argue that adult stem cells could be used for the exact same purposes as embryonic stem cells, but no research has been done on them due to a lack of funding. Umbilical cord blood has also had the capability to be used for stem cell research and funding for its study hasn’t been funded. But, according to most scientists, embryonic stem cells hold the potential to cure spinal cord injuries, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and more. There is also a huge value in studying these cells to learn more about human development and how diseases grow and develop within embryos.
So, the question remains. Is embryonic research an opportunity to save millions or just murder in disguise?