Researchers at Cambridge University have for the first time managed to extend the period a Human embryo can grow outside the womb by nearly double. In fact the researchers artificially stopped the process after 13 days due an international agreement that set the legal limit at 14.
They were able to do so by creating a structure that would act as the lining of the womb and allow the embryo to implant itself on, while also surrounding it with a nutrient rich soup that mimicked womb-like conditions.
The 14 day limit on lab grown embryos was created in the 1980’s because it was the point in which the possibility of twins is eliminated and as such the concept of individuality is assigned.
However, up until this point no researchers have ever been able to get anywhere close to the legal stop, with most embryos only lasting for around 7 days before needing to be implanted in a womb, and as a result the period is a bit of a black box in terms of technical understanding.
The ability to extend research up until 14 days has the potential to create a wealth of information on the development of diseases and disabilities that arise from genetics, as well as new information on why miscarriages take places and open up new possibilities for regenerative medicine using by better understanding stem cells.
This recent study was followed by immediate calls from the scientific community to extend the limit, at least by a few days, though the lead researcher involved admitted that this question was not one for her to answer. She also admitted that they may only be able to grow it for another day past the limit and that this development will not lead to lab grown human life.
A detailed ethical debate that weighs the moral questions with the vast wealth of scientific knowledge should take place before a decision on the 14 day limit is made.