Primordial Germ Cells: Creating Human Egg and Sperm in the Laboratory
In an article due to be published in the prestigious journal Cell, research groups from Cambridge University and the Weizmann Institute of Science have described for the first time the creation of primordial germ cells (PGCs) in the laboratory from human embryonic stem cells (ESC). Primordial germ cells give rise to eggs in women and sperm in men. While PGCs have been created in rodents, these research groups are the first to report the systematic laboratory production of these very special cells in humans. The ability to create these cells in a petri dish has eluded scientists for years. However, using a new, novel approach, the two groups jointly managed to turn back the clock on human cells that had already differentiated.
While there are still many hurdles to be overcome in transforming PGCs into mature, reproductively competent eggs and sperm, development of this technique is the first, critical step in the process. Creating PGCs isolated from ESCs has the potential to have a huge impact on countless couples with infertility. Think about it: it’s conceivable that sometime in the future, women without eggs and men without sperm could have biological children from skin cells that have been transformed into mature eggs or sperm in a petri dish. This news is both exciting and a bit frightening. At times, given the pace of scientific advancement, it is hard to catch your breath. As always, with each breakthrough, we need to take a step back and carefully think through the implications of these new technologies.
Irie, Naoko, Weinberger, Leehee, Tang, Walfred-áW, Kobayashi, Toshihiro, Viukov, Sergey, Manor, Yair S., Dietmann, Sabine, Hanna, Jacob-áH, and Surani, M.-áAzim. SOX17 Is a Critical Specifier of Human Primordial Germ Cell Fate. Cell. Cell . 2014. Elsevier. 12-27-2014.
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