Scientists urge talk before 'inevitable' dilemma

Brown University professor Elii Adashi can't see far into the future, but he can foresee the ethical quandary that lies at the end of current vitro gametogenesis (IVG).


IVG allows scientists to use stem cells, whether induced or embryonic, to make gametes, or sperm and egg cells that can be fertilized, thus creating embryos. A hypothetical endpoint of this technology is embryos being created from skin cells, thus removing the necessity of gametes derived from testes or ovaries.

“There’s something troubling about an inexhaustible supply of gametes that can be fertilized into an inexhaustible supply of embryos,” Adashi said.

Adashi is one of the authors of an essay published in Science Translational Medicine recently in which medical and legal experts from Brown and Harvard universities examined the scientific, clinical and ethical implications of rapidly progressing IVG work.

While the immediate use for IVG is likely to be gamete research, one of the advances presented by the technology is that it creates an abundant supply of eggs, and therefore a potentially abundant supply of embryos. This has ethical implications in terms of research and therapeutic uses, in which the use of embryos is already contested, but also in terms of in vitro fertilization, where scores of embryos could be created for perspective parents to choose from, or where embryos could be created from a person’s skin sample without their knowledge.

In the essay, the authors urge a public conversation in the near future: “Given the stringent safety imperative, clinical applications are less likely to be pursued any time soon. Still, with science and medicine hurtling forward at breakneck speed, the rapid transformation of reproductive and regenerative medicine may surprise us. Before the inevitable, society will be well advised to strike and maintain a vigorous public conversation on the ethical challenges of IVG.”


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