A startup intends to create artificial human embryos to harvest tissues for transplants

A year ago, Hanna first showed off a “mechanical womb” in which he managed to grow natural mouse embryos outside of a female mouse for several days. The embryos were kept in spinning jars and bathed in nutritious blood serum and oxygen.

In the new research, Hanna used the same mechanical womb, but this time to grow look-alike embryos created from stem cells. When stem cells are grown together in specially shaped containers, they will join and try to assemble an embryo, producing structures called embryoids, blastoids, or synthetic embryo models.

Many researchers insist that these structures have limited relation to real embryos and zero potential to develop completely.

However, Hanna added these synthetic mouse embryos to his mechanical womb, growing them further than ever before – to a point where the hearts started beating, blood began moving, and “there was the start of a brain and a tail.”

Hanna’s report stunned scientists. “The embryos really look great. They are really, really similar to natural embryos,” he said.

Still, techniques for growing synthetic embryos remain inefficient. Attempts to mimic a mouse embryo have not been very successful. Even the model embryos eventually suffered abnormalities.

In the next stage, Hanna is using his blood or skin cells, including those of a few other volunteers, as the starting point for making synthetic human embryos. His lab could soon be filled with thousands of genetic clones of himself.

Hanna is not troubled by the idea. He views these as entities without a future. Right now, there is no way to graduate from jar life to real life, he said.

“We are not trying to make human beings. That is not what we are trying to do,” said Hanna. “To call a day-40 embryo a mini-me is just not true.”

Leave a Comment