Scientists have claimed an initial breakthrough in their efforts to make human egg and sperm cells using skin from two adults of the same sex. The process would also help couples affected by infertility.
"We have succeeded in the first and most important step of this process, which is to show we can make these very early human stem cells in a dish," Azim Surani, lead researcher and professor of physiology and reproduction at the U.K.'s Cambridge University, told The Sunday Times.
The experiment is part of a joint project by Cambridge and Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science.
"We have also discovered that one of the things that happens in these germ cells is that epigenetic mutations, the cell mistakes that occur with age, are wiped out," added Surani, was also involved in the birth of the first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1978. "That means the cell is regenerated and reset, so while the rest of the cells in the body have aged and contain genetic mistakes, these ones don't. We can't say no mutations are passed on, but mostly it doesn't happen."
Jacob Hanna, from Israel who is part of the project, was quoted as saying that the technique could be used to create a baby in just two years. "It has already caused interest from gay groups because of the possibility of making egg and sperm cells from parents of the same sex," he said.
Scientists might also be able to use this technique to help treat some age-related illnesses that are caused by epigenetic changes, according to The Guardian, but it is likely to raise ethical issues.
Hanna added he is not in favor of creating engineered humans, and that "the social and ethical implications . . . need to be thought through, but I am very confident it will work and will be very relevant to anyone who has lost their fertility through disease."
"It is probably a long way off," according to Robin Lovell-Badge, head of stem-cell biology and developmental genetics at the National Institute for Medical Research. "But it would be a way for people who have had treatment for conditions such as childhood leukemia, which has left them infertile, to have children of their own," he was quoted as saying.