The concept of lab-grown babies sometimes referred to as artificial wombs or ectogenesis, has been the subject of intense scientific exploration and ethical debate.
While we are not yet capable of creating a completely lab-grown human baby, advancements in bioengineering and reproductive medicine are inching us closer to this reality. The process would theoretically involve creating human gametes (eggs and sperm) in a laboratory, often from stem cells, which would then be used to create a human embryo via in vitro fertilization (IVF).
This embryo could then be grown in an artificial womb, a bioengineered uterus, for the duration of a standard pregnancy. The technology currently being explored by researchers like Professor Hayashi, known as in vitro gametogenesis (IVG), is a significant part of this equation.
IVG involves reprogramming adult cells into pluripotent stem cells, which can then be transformed into eggs or sperm.
The development of IVG could address a range of reproductive challenges, such as infertility, and could allow same-sex couples or single individuals to have genetically related children without the need for an external egg or sperm donor. Another crucial piece of the lab-grown baby puzzle is the development of an artificial womb. While this technology is still in its infancy, it has seen some success.
For instance, in 2017, researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia were able to keep premature lamb fetuses alive in a device simulating a womb, providing them with oxygen and nutrients through their umbilical cord while they continued to develop. However, despite these advancements, we are still far from having the ability to grow a human baby entirely in a laboratory. There are significant technical challenges to be overcome, particularly concerning the early and late stages of pregnancy, which are incredibly complex and still not entirely understood.
Moreover, the idea of lab-grown babies raises a multitude of ethical and societal questions.
These include concerns about the implications for our understanding of parenthood and family and the risk of unforeseen consequences for the children born through this process. While the prospect of lab-grown babies is intriguing and holds the potential to revolutionize human reproduction, it also poses profound scientific, ethical, and societal challenges that we must be carefully considered.