Breakthrough raises call for debate over prospect of artificial human eggs
A new technical procedure, in vitro gametogenesis, is blazing a trail among new technologies. It basically consists of deriving both gametes — sperm and eggs — from a skin cell. An embryo can be created therefrom, and implanted in the uterus of an animal to produce live offspring. This procedure was carried out last year by Japanese researchers, led by Katsuhiko Hayashi, who produced oocytes from the skin cells of female mice. These were then fertilized in vitro and implanted into female mice, producing healthy offspring (See HERE).
Performing this in humans is proposed
The bioethical problem arises when the possibility of performing this in humans is proposed. This could theoretically be done by obtaining eggs and sperm from the skin cells of a male, which could be fertilized, giving rise to a true clone of the skin cell donor, or used in heterologous fertilization. Thus, for example, two men could have child biologically related to both, because an egg could be produced from the skin cells of one of them that could be fertilized with the sperm of the other. Women with fertility issues could also have eggs created from their skin cells, by a less harmful procedure than hormone stimulation.
Can Human gametes be produced in vitro? Their ethical consequences
Although this technique still seems to be far from being applicable in humans, if achieved, it would present many more ethical complications than in mice. But debate over the ethics of such a technology should begin now, says Azim Surani, a pioneer in the field at the University of Cambridge, UK. “This is the right time to involve the wider public in these discussions, long before and in case the procedure becomes feasible in humans,” he says
In this debate, David Lemberg, an eminent bioethicist at California National University says in an article in the New York Times, “Attempting to apply what we’ve learned to create a human zygote is dangerous, because we have no idea what we’re doing, we have no idea what the outcomes are going to be“.