With plans to create realistic synthetic embryos, grown in jars, Renewal Bio is on a journey to the horizon of science and ethics.
In a search for novel forms of longevity medicine, a biotech company based in Israel says it intends to create embryo-stage versions of people in order to harvest tissues for use in transplant treatments.The company, Renewal Bio, is pursuing recent advances in stem-cell technology and artificial wombs demonstrated by Jacob Hanna, a biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. Earlier this week, Hanna showed that starting with mouse stem cells, his lab could form highly realistic-looking mouse embryos and keep them growing in a mechanical womb for several days until they developed beating hearts, flowing blood, and cranial folds. It’s the first time such an advanced embryo has been mimicked without sperm, eggs, or even a uterus. Hanna’s report was published in the journal Cell on Monday. “This experiment has huge implications,” says Bernard Siegel, a patient advocate and founder of the World Stem Cell Summit. “One wonders what mammal could be next in line.”
The answer is humans. Hanna tells MIT Technology Review he is already working to replicate the technology starting with human cells and hopes to eventually produce artificial models of human embryos that are the equivalent of a 40- to 50-day-old pregnancy. At that stage basic organs are formed, as well as tiny limbs and fingers. We view the embryo as the best 3D bio printer,” says Hanna. “It’s the best entity to make organs and proper tissue.” Researchers can already print or grow simple tissues, like cartilage or bone, but making more complex cell types and organs has proved difficult. An embryo, however, starts building the body naturally. “The vision of the company is ‘Can we use these organized embryo entities that have early organs to get cells that can be used for transplantation?’ We view it as perhaps a universal starting point,” says Hanna. Embryonic blood cells might be collected, multiplied, and transferred to an elderly person in order to reboot the immune system. Another concept is to grow embryonic copies of women with age-related infertility. Researchers could then collect the model embryo’s gonads, which could be further matured, either in the lab or via transplant into the woman’s body, to produce youthful eggs. The startup, funded so far with seed capital from the venture firm NFX, has been briefing other investors, and its pitch materials state that its mission is “renewing humanity—making all of us young and healthy.” Renewal Bio’s precise technical plan remains under wraps, and the company’s website is just a calling card. “It’s very low on details for a reason. We don’t want to overpromise, and we don’t want to freak people out,” says Omri Amirav-Drory, a partner at NFX who is acting as CEO of the new company. “The imagery is sensitive here.”
Some scientists say it will be difficult to grow human embryo models to an advanced stage and that it would be better to avoid the controversy raised by imitating real embryos too closely. “It’s absolutely not necessary, so why would you do it?” says Nicolas Rivron, a stem-cell scientist at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna. He argues that scientists should only create “the minimal embryonic structure necessary” to yield cells of interest. For his part, Amirav-Drory says he hasn’t seen a technology with so much potential since CRISPR gene-editing technology first emerged. “The ability to create a synthetic embryo from cellsno egg, no sperm, no uterus—it’s really amazing,” he says. “We think it can be a massive, transformative platform technology that can be applied to both fertility and longevity.
Source: This news is originally published by technologyreview