Makings babies could soon get a lot less sexy.
A team of Japanese researchers is now closer than any other scientists have come to creating lab-grown human egg cells. That means the day when we can “grow” humans could be fast approaching — meaning that we should start thinking now about how we feel about that society-altering technology.
In a paper published in Science on Thursday, the team from Kyoto University’s Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences details their new work. They started by transforming human blood cells into stem cells, something scientists have been able to do since 2006. Then they created tiny artificial ovaries out of mouse embryonic cells. They put the stem cells inside those ovaries, signaling the stem cells to developing into sex cells.
Over the course of about four months, the researchers watched as the cells started to show the same characteristics we’d see in immature egg cells known as oocytes — a precursor to lab-grown human egg cells.
This isn’t exactly the same as creating eggs or sperm. But it’s the closest anyone has come to that goal.
“The successful accomplishment of the same in human [cells] is just a matter of time,” Eli Adashi, Brown University’s former dean of medicine and biological sciences who was not involved in the study, told The Washington Post. “We’re not there yet, but this cannot be denied as a spectacular next step.”
Adashi also told the Post that we need to start having conversations about “potential backlash, adverse actions, that are motivated by who knows what — political, religious, other considerations, that would put this technology in a state of abeyance.”
Of course, baby-making factories are just one potential use for lab-grown developing reproductive cells — they could do a lot for science, too.
Researchers could test everything from the effects of new medications to potential environmental hazards on the cells, thereby ensuring more naturally developed soon-to-be-humans aren’t exposed to any potential dangers during gestation.
But we aren’t there yet — first, we need to actually create the cells.
READ MORE: The ‘Game-Changing’ Technique to Create Babies From Skin Cells Just Stepped Forward [The Washington Post]
More on human reproduction: Advanced Reproductive Technology Is Here. But Who Decides Who Gets Access?