Remember the 1999 movie Matrix that showed a scene where human babies are grown in synthetic wombs? Well, a group of scientists from Israel might have created something similar for real. According to recent research published this month in the Nature journal the group of scientists led by Weizmann Institute of Science have grown mice in an artificial womb for as long as 11 or 12 days, which is about half the animal’s natural gestation period. The achievement is a breakthrough and also raises the possibility of using the same method to raise human embryos. Speaking to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Technology Review, Jacob Hanna, a developmental biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and lead author of the research team said that their study sets the stage for other species. They further expressed their hope that it will allow scientists to grow human embryos until week five.
The team of scientists grew the mice embryos in the lab by adding blood serum from human umbilical cords, agitating them in glass jars, and fueling them in a pressurized oxygen mixture. The process is similar to putting a covid-19 patient on a ventilation machine, says Jacob. Through this process, the oxygen is forced into the cells. Jacob says that once the oxygen is sent in one can see the embryo has a blood system and all the major organ systems are working.
That is not all, the Israeli team describes in their research that they conducted a series of experiments in which they added toxins, dyes, viruses, and human cells to the developing embryo of mice, to study what would occur. However, the mouse embryos died after they grew too large for the oxygen to diffuse through them because they did not receive the natural blood supply that a placenta could provide.
The research certainly raises some tough questions regarding its ethics. The research also collides with the debate surrounding women’s abortion rights. MIT Technology Review report mentions that Jacob believes the lab-grown embryos could be a research replacement for tissue derived from abortions, and possibly a source of tissue for medical treatments as well.