Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, June 04, 2017

The Biological Impudence of Science

"It gives me an unsettled feeling because we don't know what this could lead to. You can imagine one man providing both the eggs and the sperm, almost like cloning himself."
"You can imagine that eggs becoming so easily available would lead to designer babies."
Paul Knoepfler, stem cell researcher, University of California, Davis

"There are groups out there that want to reproduce among themselves."
"You could have two pairs who would each create an embryo, and then take an egg from one embryo and sperm from the other, and create a baby with four parents."
Sonia Suter, law professor, George Washington University

"I.V.G. [in virtro gametogenesis] may raise the specter of 'embryo farming' on a scale currently unimagined, which might exacerbate concerns about the devaluation of human life."
"We have come to realize that scientific developments are outpacing our ability to think them through."
"It's a challenge for which we are not fully prepared. It would be good to be having the conversation before we are actually confronting the challenges."
Dr. Eli Y. Adashi, professor of medical science, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

"It strikes many people as intuitively yucky to have three parents, or to make a baby without starting from an egg and sperm."
"But then again, it used to be that people thought blood transfusions were yucky, or putting pig valves in human hearts."
Arthur Caplan, bioethicist, New York University
A new and quickly progressing reproductive technology called in vitro gametogenesis (IVG) could potentially give fertility clinics the ability to make sperm and eggs from people's skin.
A new and quickly progressing reproductive technology called in vitro gametogenesis (IVG) could potentially give fertility clinics the ability to make sperm and eggs from people's skin. (John Javellana/Reuters)

Researchers in Japan used I.V.G. to produce reproductive eggs from adult female mice skin cells. Led by Katsuhiko Hayashi last year, embryos were produced, implanted into female mice, and eventually those mice produced healthy babies. This process was far removed from the biological protocol of reproduction that nature programmed into her creatures. Reproductive technology appears to be swiftly outpacing our imagination of what is possible.

It was forty years ago when the world received the startling news of a baby born through reproductive technology. That was done by eggs and sperm being harvested, placed in test tubes for fertilization to take place, and the resulting fertilized eggs implanted into the womb of a woman, unable through normal, 'natural' means to become pregnant; fecundity is not a guarantee of nature, there are too many variables that can interrupt the natural process where either a man or a woman is for any number of reasons, infertile.

Now that the world has become accustomed to the now-routine impact of in vitro fertilization, we are informed that strides are being made in the laboratory to stimulate human skin cells to become embryonic stem cells, capable of becoming any kind of cells, including eggs and sperms, to be used to produce babies. The laborious, costly process of ovary stimulation to produce eggs to be retrieved is to become a thing of the past, overtaken by the simple collection of skin cells to be transformed into eggs and sperm.

Stem cell biologists claim that before long human reproduction could be simplified by creating a baby from human skin cells. It might have been inconceivable not that long ago to ever imagine that a baby could be created without a female to carry fertilized eggs through to successful gestation. That this process could ever be sidelined, with an alternative approach formulated to enable two males to reproduce themselves through this new technology.

The timeless life-giving force of natural conception with the mating of a man and a woman has been upended by science.

Skin cells can be taken from one of a male pair to produce eggs to be fertilized by sperm produced from the other man's skin cells. And then there is the free-enterprise scenario of the potential of having hotels surreptitiously on the lookout to retrieve skin cells from the bedding of celebrities passing the night, to be sold to the highest bidder. Or celebrities selling their skin cells to their besotted audiences.

That would represent quite a personal autograph.

Prominent academics in medicine and law weighted in on the possible consequences of I.V.G. in a paper published in 2017 when Dr. Eli Y. Adashi, medical science professor at Brown University,
I. Glenn Cohen, professor, Harvard Law School and Dr. George Q. Daley, dean, Harvard Medical School, between them wrote of their concerns in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

I.V.F., now such a common procedure, elicited much controversy when in vitro fertilization techniques were first brought to public attention. Such procedures, however, now represent close to two percent of babies born in the United States annually, with an estimated 6.5-million babies having been born through such technologies, world-wide.

In vitro gametogenesis is not all that straightforward; as a new medical technique layers of complicated bioengineering are involved, with adult skin cells harvested, reprogrammed to become embryonic stem cells with the capacity of growing into various types of cells which must be guided to become eggs or sperm. What could possibly be more basic to nature in survival of the species than the biological processes that nature has equipped us with?

How troubled should we be over someone proceeding with the intention, using I.V.G., to reproduce themselves, or members of the same immediate family doing the same? What happens to genetic variability, and what of the health outcomes of a concentrated gene pool? Is this not the stuff of a too limited gene pool that instructs us that incest produces harmful genetic mutations?

Little wonder it represents a hornet's nest of ethical concerns.
Bioethicists feel that reproductive strategies like IVG put too much of an emphasis on a genetic link and undermine other ways of creating families. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

But science is piqued by human curiosity. And curiosity guides science into new theories inevitably some of which reach laboratory status and then repeatability leads to recognition and because the outcome represents another milestone in scientific achievement, science bids its practitioners to keep right on investigating and challenging nature at every level of her complex blueprints for existence.

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