A team at the University of Bath has successfully raised not just one mouse, but three entire generations of mice from cells incapable of growing into an embryo. These results have wild implications for infertile women, impotent men, gay couples, and women who simply wish to avoid the burden of pregnancy.
The human race is nowhere near extinction like in the popular sci-fi film, but the falling birth rate in Europe is a public health concern. So much so, the European Parliament called for universal access to infertility treatment in 2008. New research from the University of Bath, published in Nature Communications, may circumvent the entire process and make it possible to grow an embryo from virtually any cell in the body.
Since fertilization was first discovered in 1876, the dominant line of thought had been that only an egg is capable of reprogramming sperm to trigger the growth of an embryo, limiting parenthood to a mother and a father. However, the researchers at Bath have managed to grow 3 generations of healthy mice from cells incapable of forming an embryo the old fashioned way. This result leaves the door open for the development of an embryo from any cell in the human body.
According to Dr. Anthony Perry, in whose lab the research was conducted, the next step will be to carry out the experiment in skin cells. He said in a press release,
We’re talking about different ways of making embryos. Imagine that you could take skin cells and make embryos from them. This would have all kinds of utility.”
This research could be applied to save women (and the economy) the burden of pregnancy and make it possible for gay couples to conceive a child entirely of their own DNA.
A few biotech companies are also trying to remedy infertility. Clinical trials of an endometriosis therapy from Bayer and Evotec have just begun, and the French biotech, Kallistem, produced the world’s first lab-grown spermatozoa last year, since the average number of sperm per male has declined 50% in the last 50 years. While the European fertility rate may be declining as the result of couples’ choices, these developments give hope to the disheartened couples who do not wish to be childless.