According to recent breakthroughs in Japan, it may be possible to grow human babies in a lab in just five years. Researchers have developed a process to create human eggs and sperm from scratch in a lab, which can then develop in an artificial womb.
According to the Daily Mail, Professor Katsuhiko Hayashi, a Japanese scientist at Kyushu University, who has already achieved this in mice, predicts that he can replicate the same results in humans within five years.
However, this development raises ethical concerns, as it could mean that women of any age can have babies and parents may want to edit certain genes to design their offspring, leading to the concept of a perfect child.
Dr. Hayashi and his team have successfully created seven mice with two male biological parents, using skin cells from a male mouse to form a viable egg and then fertilizing it.
This process is known as in vitro gametogenesis (IVG) and involves reprogramming cells from a person’s blood or skin to become induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), which can become any cell in the body, including egg and sperm cells. Although scientists have been able to make basic human eggs and sperm using this method, creating embryos has not yet been possible.
According to Dr. Hayashi, it may take up to five years to produce egg-like cells from humans, followed by another 10-20 years of testing before the method can be safely used in clinics.
Stanford University Professor Henry Greely estimates that researchers will need another five to ten years to prove the concept’s reliability, coupled with a decade or two of safety testing. Jeanne Loring, a researcher at the Scripps Research Institute, stated that the process of IVG in human reproduction could take anywhere from five to 25 years, as reported by The New York Times in 2017.
If successful, this technology could help infertile couples by generating sperm and eggs from their blood cells. This would be especially beneficial for same-sex couples or hopeful single parents who currently rely on donated sperm or eggs, IVF, and surrogates.
However, ethical, legal, and safety concerns still remain regarding IVG. Some ethicists are worried that it could lead to designer babies, eugenics, and legal complications that our society may not be prepared to deal with.
In addition, IVG could potentially allow people to create babies without the consent of the DNA donor by extracting their DNA from a strand of hair. In 2016, Japanese researchers were able to create stem cells from eight-week-old mice by selecting ones that had lost their Y chromosome. They then manipulated the cells to copy the remaining X chromosome, creating a cell with two X genes, typically considered a female cell.