OK, so it sounds alittle Sci-Fi but the possibilities are gigantic!!
It’s the latest in stem cell research. The ability to make fertile eggs and sperm in a petri dish has only been done in mice, but testing this technique on other mammals is yet to come. To make eggs and sperm in a lab dish is a huge breakthrough in reproductive biology. These experiments are being conducted by a core group of scientists at the Kyoto University in Japan.
Recently, 2 stem cell researchers won this year’s Nobel Prize for groundbreaking work in cellular reprograming. This is a technique that has been used in cloning as well as the possible treatment of diseases with using ones own cells. John B. Gurdon of the United Kingdom and Shinya Yamanaka of Japan have found a way to take mature cells of the body and change them to an embryonic-like state in a laboratory dish. It is like turning back the biological clock! This is called cellular reprogramming and is what led to the first cloned animal-the frog, and eventually to the first cloned mammal-Dolly the sheep. It also led to not having to destroy human embryos which had been a very ethical subject. A year ago, these scientists were able to make mouse sperm in the lab. Now, using this technique by Dr. Yamanaka, making mouse eggs (which are very complex and fragile) has now been accomplished.
This may bring us to more ethical and moral issues down the road depending on where this research is heading. The positives are clear: We will be able with cellular reprogramming, to turn mature cells into embryonic-like cells which can further be manipulated into heart, nerve, muscles and essentially all other tissue types. This means, for example, that you can use fresh retinal cells and transplant them into people with macular degeneration (the most common eye condition among people over 50 that can lead to loss of vision). Making new heart tissue for those with severe heart damage is another example, and the possibilities are endless in saving lives and treating disease.
The eery part of this may be that we can manipulate cells, DNA and genes and produce offspring from a petri dish that can then be implanted into a woman. This would help infertile couples conceive at ANY age and allow them to choose eye color, hair color, height, etc. of the child. Helping to treat diseases is one thing but customizing your child is another. We are a long way from making this a human experiment, but science is moving pretty quickly and there will be some big decisions to make if (or when) that time comes.