Deleted the 14-day limit for human embryo growth in vitro

Deleted the 14-day limit for human embryo growth in vitro

ISSCR experts cross out the "14-day rule", instead promoting discussion and rigorous control over the ethics and necessity of experiments, for the benefit of knowledge about embryonic development

(image: Pixabay) Grow human embryos in the laboratory beyond two weeks after fertilization? Let's talk about. In a nutshell, this is the meaning of the change in the guidelines of the International Society for Stem Cell Research (Isscr), which brings together the world's leading experts in the field. The renunciation of the 14-day rule, it is specified, is not a green light to any experiment, but an invitation to discussion and confrontation between scientists, institutions and public opinion: every single project that provides for the maturation of human embryos in vitro beyond limits imposed so far must also be assessed by the ethics committee to ascertain their integrity and good intentions.

The 14-day rule

The so-called 14-day rule is a strict limit that Scientists in 1979 set about the maturation of human embryos in the laboratory, in consideration of the knowledge and techniques acquired up to that moment, and of ethical considerations, to prevent the development of tissues increasingly similar to those of a person. Over time, this rule has become a fundamental reference for regulatory bodies, so strong that several states have turned it into law.

On May 26, however, the International Society for Stem Cell Research (Isscr) has taken a decision that will certainly cause debate: it has eliminated it from its guidelines, without replacing it with other rules, taking into consideration the possibility of making human embryos mature in vitro for longer. But why?

The reasons for the ISCR

When the 14-day rule was formulated (and so for several subsequent years) it was not really a real limit: it was very difficult to be able to preserve viable human embryos up to that point. Thanks to the development of knowledge and techniques, however, today it would be possible. A fact of which the scientific community is aware and which requires both internal and external discussion towards institutions and public opinion.

Exceeding 14 days of development, experts acknowledge, would offer opportunities : discoveries and enrichment of knowledge on human embryonic development, on infertility, on the causes of spontaneous termination of pregnancy at an early stage. Information that is difficult to obtain in any other way, not even with embryo-like human stem cells. These models, in fact, are not considered to be quite similar to real human embryos. The revocation of the 14-day rule, however, could allow us to compare them, understanding to what extent they are similar and how the models can be used to their full potential.

No unconditional green light

The ISSCR, therefore, suggests evaluating the projects that propose to make human embryos mature in the laboratory for more than two weeks, deciding on a case-by-case basis and subjecting them to different phases of review from different points of view (scientific and ethical) to decide on at which point the experiments must be stopped.

"This is not a green light to move forward with the extension of the development of human embryos beyond 14 days", explained at a press conference Kathy Niakan, biologist of the University of Cambridge and the Francis Crick Institute and member of the task force that worked on the new guidelines. “It would be irresponsible. And, in many jurisdictions, it would be illegal to do so. What we are doing instead are guidelines that invite you to proactively engage in a two-way dialogue with the public to review the 14-day limit on human embryo culture ".

" We are not simply kicking off free people to do this kind of research, ”added Robin Lovell-Badge of the Francis Crick Institute, who predicts that the longer a researcher wants to advance embryo maturation the harder the review process by regulatory bodies will be .

Gene editing

Deleting the 14-day rule is not the only update to the ISCR guidelines. For example, the task force of experts also evaluated the possibility of modifying the genes of human embryos, ova and spermatozoa, concluding, however, that too little is still known, that the risks are still too great. Techniques like Crispr-Cas9 still have flaws that can cause unintended changes, the consequences of which can be predicted.

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Bioethics Stem cells genetics globalData.fldTopic = "Bioethics, Stem cells, genetics"

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