I read an article in The Guardian this week which amazed me but at the same time left me a little troubled for what the future may look like for reproduction. Scientists and researchers are constantly working on new ways to improve and advance IVF techniques, but some people may argue this latest research may be taking it slightly too far. The article was with regards to some research which is currently being carried out where scientists are making steady progress towards creating human sperm and eggs using ordinary cells and believe that by 2040, it could be common to produce embryos from the skin cells of people of any age or gender. Although this research is still in the very early stages, biologists do believe that it is only a matter of time and effort for this to be fully achieved.
To explain in brief, scientists are developing ways to create human gametes (sperm and eggs) by using ordinary skin cells. These cells are not gender specific meaning that sperm and eggs may be produced from both male and female donors and that even a single donor could provide both sperm and egg to generate an embryo. This new research could revolutionise treatments for those with fertility problems, but it also raises many ethical questions.
New hope for struggling couples?
This technique could provide couples with fertility problems a new sense of hope that they could generate their own gametes rather than going down the egg or sperm donation route or same sex couples to both be the genetic parent of any resultant off spring which is truly amazing.
This research is currently taking place at Kyoto University in Japan and they are still a long way off achieving this but the fact that they are trying to work towards it, is genuinely mind blowing. Although whether this technology (if it ever succeeded and came to market) would be accepted and utilised in the UK is another story.
Many ethical concerns have been raised as this could be another step towards creating “designer babies” and scientists have described the possibility that IVF patients are presented with an exact choice of which embryo they would like transferred, fully in the knowledge of what characteristics any resultant baby could have. Making these artificial gametes would create much more scope of how we reproduce and who can reproduce, which opens another can of worms into the “welfare of the child” argument.
Whether this is ever witnessed in our lifetime, I am unsure, but it really is fascinating to think how new technology can radically change the landscape of the fertility world and what could be achievable in the future.
Holly Scott, Patient and Clinic Liaison Manager
*subject to acceptance and the terms of your plan