This startup plans to create realistic human embryos

This startup plans to create realistic human embryos

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The exact technical plan of Renewal Bio remains secret, i company website is just a business card. “There are very few 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 the new company’s CEO. “The images here are sensitive.”

Some scientists say it will be difficult to grow human embryo models to an advanced stage and that it would be better to avoid the controversy that comes with mimicking real embryos too closely.

“It’s absolutely not necessary, so why would you do it?” says Nicolas Rivron, a stem cell scientist at the Institute for Molecular Biotechnology in Vienna. He claims that scientists need to create only the “minimum embryonic structure necessary” to obtain the cells of interest.

For his part, Amirav-Drory says he hasn’t seen a technology with this much potential since CRISPR gene-editing technology first appeared. “The ability to create a synthetic embryo from cells—no egg, no sperm, no uterus—is really amazing,” he says. “We think it can be a massive, transformative platform technology that can be applied to both fertility and longevity.”

Mechanical womb

To create a series of breakthroughs, Hanna’s lab combines advanced stem cell science with new types of bioreactors.

A year ago, a stem cell specialist first demonstrated “mechanical uterus” in which he managed to grow natural mouse embryos outside of a female mouse for several days. The system includes rotating jars that keep the embryos bathed in nutritious blood serum and oxygen.

Mouse embryos in a mechanical womb from a 2021 study

A. AGUILERA-CASTREJON ET AL., NATURE 2021

In new research published this week, Hanna used the same mechanical womb, but this time to grow similar embryos created from stem cells.

Interestingly, when stem cells are grown together in specially shaped dishes, they will spontaneously fuse together and try to assemble the embryo, producing structures called embryos, blastoids, or synthetic embryo models. Many researchers insist that, despite appearances, these structures have a limited relationship with actual embryos and zero potential to fully develop.



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