Are we on the cusp of a brave new world of artificial human embryos?

That reality is still a ways off, but scientists in Israel are getting closer, according to Jacob Hanna, a biologist at the Weizmann Institute:

Hanna tells MIT Technology Review he is already working to replicate the technology starting with human cells and hopes to eventually produce artificial models of human embryos that are the equivalent of a 40- to 50-day-old pregnancy. At that stage basic organs are formed, as well as tiny limbs and fingers.

Researchers can already print or grow simple tissues, like cartilage or bone, but making more complex cell types and organs has proved difficult. An embryo, however, starts building the body naturally.

“The vision of the company is ‘Can we use these organized embryo entities that have early organs to get cells that can be used for transplantation?’ We view it as perhaps a universal starting point,” says Hanna.

Embryonic blood cells might be collected, multiplied, and transferred to an elderly person in order to reboot the immune system. Another concept is to grow embryonic copies of women with age-related infertility. Researchers could then collect the model embryo’s gonads, which could be further matured, either in the lab or via transplant into the woman’s body, to produce youthful eggs.

The startup, funded so far with seed capital from the venture firm NFX has been briefing other investors, and its pitch materials state that its mission is “renewing humanity—making all of us young and healthy.”

Renewal Bio’s precise technical plan remains under wraps, and the company’s website is just a calling card. “It’s very low on details for a reason. We don’t want to overpromise, and we don’t want to freak people out,” says Omri Amirav-Drory, a partner at NFX who is acting as CEO of the new company. “The imagery is sensitive here.”

“Sensitive” may be the biggest understatement I read this week.

There are so many terrible things that can come of this. Certainly also some good. Any inclination I have that this might be useful is tempered by the fact that we live under capitalism, and capitalism will always find ways to use scientific discoveries like these in evil ways that will harm society as a whole.

You can read the rest of Antonio Regaldo’s article in the MIT Technology Review at this link. (Note: paywall after you read a certain numbers of articles in a month.)

A plastic model of a human fetus. They can’t come close to artificial embryos taken to this point of development — yet.

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