No, it isn’t the teaser to a new horror movie, although you can bet someone will use this as a springboard for one–scientists have indeed figured out how to induce dead cells to become just about kind of cell they need. Adult stem cell success is an old story, which begs the question: why do we hear more about fetal stem cell research?
The more we hear about stem cell science, the more I begin to wonder if hospitals won’t soon become cell farms….which brings me back to the horror story angle. Hmm…..
An oocyte is the fancy name for an immature egg cell, produced in a female’s ovary. Up until now, oocytes had to be harvested from an ovary for in vitro fertilization (IVF), but that may soon become passe.
If a report published at Science Magazine is accurate, then it looks like Japanese researchers (Katsuhiko Hayashi et al.) may have produced a sperm-ready egg derived from a female skin cell. This artificially derived ‘oocyte’ was matured in vitro, and the resulting ‘egg’ fertilized (also in vitro) and then implanted into a surrogate mother. In the report, resulting offspring were not only healthy but were then able to produce offspring of their own–the old fashioned way. In other words, the second generation’s grandmother was a skin cell.
Of course, the Japanese team used mice as their test subjects, not humans, but the process would be very much the same in a human female. The scientist (or down-the-road, a physician or tech) would extract skin stem cells from the basal epidermis of a woman and then induce these stem cells (through hormonal means) to become an oocyte. Stem cells have the potential to mature into any kind of cell given the correct set of ‘instructions’.
This ‘oocyte’ would then be matured in an artificial ‘ovary’ (in a Petri dish). The matured egg would undergo fertilization using traditional IVF methods–implanted in the host mother (this could even be a woman in a coma) and behold!–a child is born.
The Japanese team responsible for this skin job admits that there’s no way to know how the method might behave in humans. The offspring could be non-viable due to genetic mutations that occurred during induced meiosis, but who knows? One day, we might see baby farms where children are grown from skin. (I’ll add that this same team has also produced ‘sperm’ cells from skin, so no dad needed!)
We are living in strange times, and many scientists venture into forbidden realms–simply because they ‘can’. However, despite what appear to be great advances in genetics and reproductive medicine, scientists are still little more than kids in a playroom. Our Father created a wonderful, complicated world, and the secrets of genetics still lie well outside our grasp. Let’s just put down the toys and walk away, ok?