Creating 'embryos' in a dish: what does it mean for the future of science?

Researchers have successfully created living models of an early stage of human embryonic development.

An Australian-led international team introduced the 'iBlastoid', grown from reprogrammed skin cells. Another research group published similar findings, starting with human embryonic stem cells or induced pluripotent stem cells for their lab-grown blastoids. These are not entire embryos, but a 3D cellular model that resembles human blastocyst biology. Importantly, they cannot be used to create humans.

What does this mean for the future of science?

New models for the human embryo open exciting avenues to study early development. This could have significant benefits for discovering causes of infertility, miscarriage and genetic diseases. Cellular models could be a step towards addressing the difficulties with studying real human embryos, including ethical concerns about their supply. These discoveries also raise further ethical questions for society to consider about where lines are drawn for responsible use of this technology in future.

Megan Munsie from Stem Cells Australia and Helen Abud from Monash University examine the significance of the breakthrough and its ethical implications in a piece for The Conversation.

The International Society for Stem Cell Research will release new guidelines for stem cell research and clinical translation in May 2021.


Find out more

The Conversation: Researchers have grown ‘human embryos’ from skin cells. What does that mean, and is it ethical?

Monash University: Meet the iBlastoid: A game-changer in unlocking the molecular mystery of early human life

EuroStemCell Fact Sheet: Origins, ethics and embryos: the sources of human embryonic stem cells

EuroStemCell Fact Sheet: iPS cells and reprogramming: turn any cell of the body into a stem cell

The Niche: New lab-grown blastoids are strikingly similar to human embryos

Nature News and Views (with links to original papers): First complete model of the human embryo