Sperm and eggs grown in a Petri dish could revolutionise reproduction

Michael Cook
January 14, 2017
Reproduced with Permission

The imminent arrival of eggs and sperm grown from skin cells makes legislative change imperative, three Ivy League professors argue in the journal Science Translational Medicine .

IVF was a game-changing technology, write Glenn Cohen, of Harvard Law School, George Q. Daley, of Harvard Medical School, and Eli Y. Adashi, of Brown University, but IVG - in vitro gametogenesis - could revolutionise reproduction.

Although at the moment IVG has only been successful in mice, it may only be a matter of time before scientists are able to make an ordinary skin cell revert to a pluripotent cell which can be grown into germ cell. This will provide scientists and IVF clinics with an "inexhaustible supply" of eggs and sperm.

That day is not around the corner. "Copious preclinical evidence of safety" will be needed. At the moment, "Whether human iPSCs have a propensity for genetic and epigenetic aberrations is unresolved." But scientists in several countries are working feverishly on this. Sooner or later, it will happen - perhaps in countries where medical researchers are very lightly regulated, like Cyprus, China or the Dominican Republic.

Obviously, until IVG is successful, this essay about its social impact is merely speculative. But the legal horizon is very hazy, because such possibilities have never existed before. "Before the inevitable, society will be well advised to strike and maintain a vigorous public conversation on the ethical challenges of IVG," they argue.

Cohen, Daley and Adashi list several uses for the IVG which could probably be used to lobby legislators.

However, this creates a number of ethical and regulatory issues which need to be unravelled.

Indeed, as an Australian bioethicist pointed out a couple of years ago in the Journal of Medical Ethics , generations of human beings could be created in the lab so that an IVG child would effectively have no relatives. He or she would be "orphaned at conception". "Scientists will be able to breed human beings with the same (or greater) degree of sophistication with which we currently breed plants and animals."