A California startup is trying to make human eggs in a lab with first-of-its-kind technology that would revolutionize the fertility market.
Biotech company Conception aims to accelerate and eventually commercialize in vitro gametogenesis (IVG), a process that involves making human eggs and sperm in a lab from any cell in a person’s body.
This could mean that people struggling with infertility, as well as same-sex and transgender couples, could have their own biological children for the first time.
But there are ethical concerns, as it means women of any age could have babies. Parents may also want to design their offspring to have certain traits using gene editing tools, giving way to the notion of an assumed perfect child.
A California startup is developing technology surrounding in vitro gametogenesis, a process that involves making human eggs and sperm in a lab from any cell in a person’s body. This could allow infertile, same-sex, and transgender couples to have their own biological children
‘I personally think what we’re doing will probably change many aspects of society as we know it,” Pablo Hurtado, Conception’s chief scientific officer, told NPR.
‘It’s really exciting to be working on a technology that can change the lives of millions of humans.’
Co-founder Matt Krisiloff said that the team is essentially trying to turn a type of human stem cell called an induced pluripotent stem cell into a human egg.
These stem cells can be made from just a single cell from any person’s skin or blood.
In theory, these cells can become any cell in the body, including egg and sperm cells.
This would allow women to have their own genetically related babies, even if they have lost their own eggs, which can happen because of cancer treatment, an inability to produce healthy ones, or from aging, which would make them no longer viable.
It would also be a breakthrough for same-sex and transgender couples who otherwise can’t have their own biological children.
The treatment has already been used to create a mouse with two biological fathers but is still years away from human studies.
Both Mr Krisiloff and Mr Hurtado, for example, are gay and hope the treatment could help them each have their own kids.
‘[This] really opens the door, if you can create the eggs, to be able to help people have children that otherwise don’t have options right now,’ Mr Krisiloff said.
This practice differs from widely used methods like in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intrauterine insemination (IUI), which still require sperm and egg.
The company also grows combinations of cells called mini-ovaries, which will help transform follicles into immature human eggs. Conception has not yet revealed how it created human ovarian follicles inside mini-ovaries.
However, Mr Krisiloff said the company hopes to prove that the follicles in the mini-ovaries can grow into eggs capable of making babies.
‘We think it means we’re quite close to being able to have proof-of-concept human eggs — instead of this abstract idea that’s really just an imaginative science fiction idea — that really indicates that, “Hey, this technology is actually closer than people think,”‘ he said.
IVG has shown promise in some studies. One Japanese study published in the journal Science showed success in mice, for example.
However, the technology still has a long way to go.
Conception has not published any findings in journals, and outside scientists haven’t yet been able to validate the claims. Mr Krisiloff said that more research is needed to prove the technology is safe.
Critics have also raised the concern that this could lead to ‘designer babies,’ where parents pick and choose the appearance and traits for the child.
It’s unclear when this technology could be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and be widely used.
However, scientists are still confident the research is headed in the right direction.
‘Opening this door for so many more people is — including, you know, me and Pablo — a really cool thing. It could lead to so many people being able to have, you know, families, and children to be able to have lives,’ Mr Krisiloff said.
‘I just think that’s a really beautiful thing.’
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