Scientists from the UK and Israel have demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to make human egg and sperm cells using skin from two adults of the same sex – a breakthrough that may make it possible for same-sex couples to have children with shared DNA.
The research, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust, was completed at Cambridge University with the assistance of experts from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Cambridge News reported on Monday. They were able to use stem cell lines from embryos and from five different adults (a total of 10 different donor sources) to successfully create germ-cell lines.
According to CBS Atlanta, the experiment had previously been successful in creating live baby mice, but this new study marks the first time in which engineered human cells were found to be an identical match to aborted fetuses. It also marks the first time that human stem and skin cells were combined to form entirely new germ-cell lines.
“We have succeeded in the first and most important step of this process, which is to show we can make these very early human stem cells in a dish,” Azim Surani, project leader at the Wellcome Trust and a professor of physiology and reproduction at Cambridge, told The Sunday Times.
Hope for those who can’t conceive
The key to the process was SOX17, a master gene which typically works to direct stem cells to form whatever type of tissue or organ is required. Their new process works by manipulating this gene so that it becomes part of a primordial germ cell specification (causing it to create cells that will form an entire person), making it possible to create primordial germ cells in the lab.
The study authors said that their work has already caught the attention of gay couples, advocacy groups, and heterosexual couples who are unable to conceive. They also told the media that they recognize the serious ethical issues that are raised by their research, but believe that many people will be able to benefit from the technique, which they have been testing on humans since first creating the artificial human eggs and sperm for the first time late last year.
Robin Lovell-Badge, the head of stem-cell biology and developmental genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research, added that the breakthrough “will be important for understanding the causes of infertility and for the treatment of it. It is probably a long way off, but it would be a way for people who have had treatment for conditions such as childhood leukemia, which has left them infertile, to have children of their own.”