December 11, 2023

Science and technology: Leopoldina: Embryo research permitted in Germany

Science and technology: Leopoldina: Embryo research permitted in Germany

The embryos

A microplate with Cas9 protein and PCSK9 sgRNA injected embryos can be seen in a laboratory in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, southern China. Photo: Mark Schiefelbein / AP / dpa

(Photo: dpa)

The International Society for Stem Cell Research also spoke on Wednesday According to international standards, scientists should be able to pursue high-level research goals, according to a statement published on Wednesday by Leopoldina and the Federation of German Academies of Sciences.

Also Wednesday, the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) spoke in favor of the ability to grow embryos made from human stem cells for longer than the usual 14 days in the laboratory. Accordingly, researchers should be allowed to grow embryo models in the laboratory as long as they serve the intended research purpose – but only after individual testing.

In the latest edition of the 2016 international guideline, exceeding the 14-day rule was deemed “prohibited activities”. Since then, research has made great strides – both in the cultivation of human embryos and, for example, in the formation of embryos from stem cells, as the eleven-member working group explains the new edition of the guide in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

The authors are from the USA, Canada, Great Britain, Austria, Japan and China. The group wrote: “While the committee realizes that human embryo transplantation after 14 days is prohibited by law or regulations in many legal systems, it believes that imposing a comprehensive ban in this area could hinder important research directions.”

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Each research project should be studied and evaluated separately according to scientific and ethical aspects. It is especially concerned with the degree of integration of the embryo model – that is, whether or not it develops all the characteristics required for its further maturation. Accordingly, the prohibition of embryo transfer into the uterus of a human or animal should continue.

In response to the new guiding principle, Thomas Zwaka of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, said: “Cell culture models that go beyond the 14-day rule are essential to our understanding of human development, as some of the most important development steps. Only after this period. Increasingly, the basis for many serious developmental disorders can be understood from advanced models. Embryo models are not “real human life”. The new guidelines are outdated as many researchers have aggressively pushed the boundaries of what is possible for years.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Leopoldina’s statement was published on the same day that the new ISSCR guidelines were published. The Embryo Protection Act (ESchG) of 1990 allows human embryos to be created in the laboratory for the purpose of reproduction, according to the statement. But it prohibits any search for it. In countries such as Israel, Denmark, Sweden, Great Britain, the United States and Japan, on the other hand, it is allowed to search for early human embryos that are no longer necessary for reproduction within narrow limits.

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The surplus embryos that were created in the context of fertility treatments should be allowed to be used but are no longer needed in science. A committee specially created to review the research projects involved and their goals.

The statement emphasized that according to the international scientific opinion, there are a number of important questions that can only be dealt with scientifically with the help of embryo research. This includes treating common diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, heart attacks or strokes with the help of stem cell lines. In addition, it is about elucidating the early developmental biology of a human being, improving reproductive medicine or improving the development of fetuses and embryos during pregnancy.

So far, the statement added, German scientists have been able to contribute little to this research. “Thirty years after ESchG went into effect, the Academies believe it is time to re-evaluate the legally permissible and morally justifiable treatment of early human embryos.”

From the point of view of the academies of science, the decision about making the surplus embryos available for research should fall on the couple who came from him. When family planning is completed for these couples, the remaining embryos can only be discarded or donated to the other couples.

According to the information, more than 319,000 babies were born in Germany between 1997 and 2018 after IVF. In this procedure, egg cells are removed from the woman after taking the hormone and collected with the man’s semen. In some cases, more embryos are produced than those transferred to the woman.

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“The search for early embryos in the laboratory, that is, outside the human body, which were created for reproductive purposes but are no longer used for this purpose (…), must comply with
International standards, “Recommend opinion.” Permission to search should be included
They apply exclusively to high-level research objectives that serve to gain scientific knowledge in the context of basic research and to expand medical knowledge in the development of diagnostic, preventive or curative procedures. ”

So the federal authority can decide with the ethics committee the admissibility of the project. Embryo research has sparked decades of debate. Research interests play a role, as well as ethical and legal considerations.

ISSCR on “Stem Cell Reports”