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Ethics, iBlastoids, and Brain Organoids: Time to Revise Antiquated Laws and Processes

Written by Julian Savulescu
Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics and Wellcome Centre for Ethics, University of Oxford
Biomedical Ethics Research Group, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute

Jose Polo and his team at Monash University have successfully reprogrammed human adult cells (fibroblasts – skin cells) to form “iBlastoids”. These are structures which are like early human embryos. Normally when a sperm enters an egg, it produces a new cell, which divides, and these cells divide until a blastocyst is formed in the first week, consisting of 200-300 cells. In normal embryonic development, this would implant in the uterus. However, iBlastoids can’t do this as they lack the normal membrane that surrounds the blastocyst. They cannot by themselves form a fetus or baby.

They will be useful to study early human development and why so many embryos die soon after formation. They can be used to study mutations or the effect of toxins, perhaps developing treatments for infertility. So far, they have only been allowed to develop to the equivalent of a Day 11 Blastocyst. It is not clear whether they can produce the precursors to brain development:

“the developmental potential of iBlastoids as a model for primitive streak formation and gastrulation remains to be determined, and will require an international conversation on the applicability of the 14-day rule to iBlastoids.” (Excerpt from the team’s Nature article)

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Conjoined Twins, Cloning and Artificial Intelligence

Rosie and Ruby Formasa at 12 weeks are two ‘normal, smiling bubbly babies’. But they have already survived major surgery, just one day after their birth.
Conjoined at the abdomen at the level of the umbilicus, the girls shared an intestine. Pregnancy scans in the second trimester had identified that the twins were conjoined, but could not show exactly where until the birth was induced at 34 weeks.

Angela Formasa, the twins’ mother, said “ What they have done for my two girls is amazing. When I was pregnant they were saying that the survival chances were quite low”

The surgery to separate them and replumb their intestines was apparently successfully performed and they have the expectation of a normal life.

Conjoined twins raise difficult ethical dilemmas . They can be joined by a thin sliver of skin, at the abdomen, chest or even brain. They arise because of anomaly of human development.

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