ELSIcon2022 • Paper • June 3, 2022
Ana Iltis, Kirstin Matthews
Researchers have made significant strides toward studying human embryogenesis by culturing human embryos longer and creating stem cell-based embryo models or embryoids. Embryoids are novel, lab-grown entities derived from pluripotent stem cells that recapitulate aspects and stages of early human embryo development. These entities can be produced in large numbers to allow scientists to test and refine hypotheses without working directly on human embryos. More significantly, unlike fixed models of embryos, embryoids can be genetically modified to determine the roles different genes play in development and to study genetic disorders. This knowledge may be essential in pre-clinical research including human embryo gene editing. While embryoids may be viewed as an easier-to-obtain, less controversial, alternative to human embryos, research on embryoids raise ethical and policy questions. Are they embryos? What features would make them similar enough to warrant treating them as if they were human embryos? What ethical guidelines or regulatory constraints should govern research on embryoids? In this presentation, we will provide a brief description of embryoids, conflicting and confusing US policies that apply to these entities, and controversial guidelines from scientific societies to regulate them as well as explore some of the novel ethical questions embryoids research raises. We will also highlight frameworks for stakeholder and public engagement that integrate scientific, political, ethical and religious perspectives for policymaking and could be used to advance the development of policies on embryoids research.