Last month, a Cambridge team lead by Professor Magdalena Zenricka Goetz, were the first ever to create artificial mice embryos. The embryos, made from stem cells, grew similarly to a real embryo, and had a similar structure to that of a real embryo.
“But what are stem cells?” you may ask. In an article by Medical News Today, stem cells are defined as, a class of undifferentiated cells that are able to differentiate into specialised cell types. This means that the stem cells are “super” cells, which have the ability to transform themselves into a specialised cell with certain key characteristics. For instance, stem cells can form red blood cells, which have features such as no nucleus and haemoglobin that are unique to it. Also, stem cells can make copies of themselves.
There are mainly two types of stem cell. The first is the embryonic stem cell. These are found in the blastocyst, (a five or six day old embryo) and are capable of forming any type of cell in the body. They are described as pluripotent due to this characteristic, as, from these stem cells, brain cells, skin cells, heart cells, liver cells, nerve cells, red blood cells…whew!!… kidney cells, hair cells, muscle cells……you get the idea right?
The second type, tissue-specific stem cells, can be found in different parts of the body, however, there aren’t too many of them. These stem cells differ from embryonic stem cells, as they produce different cell types for the specific organs where they are located and do not differentiate into a wide range of cells like embryonic stem cells. For instance hematopoietic stem cells (stem cells in the bone marrow) differentiate to form red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, but can’t form brain cells.
In the experiment, two types of stem cells were used – embryonic stem cells and extra-embryonic trophoblast stem cells, which form the placenta. These stem cells were placed on a 3-D scaffold – to which the placenta would attach, and placed in a tank set to give the cells similar conditions to that in a womb. Two distinct clusters of the stem cells were observed at opposite ends, by the end of the experiment, as well as a centrally located cavity. Though a triumph for stem cell research, this four-day experiment, if left for a longer period of time, would not have developed into a mouse, as the embryo did not have a yolk sac, which provides nutrition to the embryo.
The research (and it’s findings) have been received with mixed feelings from the public. If successful, this procedure could be used to create artificial humans. One argument is, how this would help researchers study early human life and the cause of miscarriage, and help women who struggle with pregnancy. On the other hand, this first raises ethical concerns and some worry that if allowed, this is the first step into the dark side, where there would be genetically modified humans. Hmm…. that’s scary!!!
Being a Christian, I am siding with those against the idea of artificial humans. God is God and we are his creations. He made everything, including us. Even, these brilliant researchers needed stem cells from a mouse (God’s perfect creation) to create the embryos. This shows us that He is indispensible.