An article published in Nature, signed by notable personalities in the area of bioethics, discusses the ethical implications of embryoids (organoids) or embryo models, in vitro cell aggregates that model various regions of the embryo to allow their study.
These studies are framed within the growing field of organoids (see HERE), which are tiny models of different organs in 3D, obtained in vitro from stem cells. Organoids of multiple organs and various tissues have already been obtained, such as heart, brain, renal, stomach, organoids, etc.
The organoids present great possibilities in medicine, both in the research of organic function and in drug development. It is also hoped that they can be used for transplantation in the future.
In terms of embryoids, their uses include the study of the causes and treatment of infertility and research into different diseases or disorders that the early embryo may suffer during the pregnancy, as well as the design of new contraceptives and improvement of in vitro fertilization techniques.
From an ethical perspective, organoids do not present any drawbacks, with certain exceptions, such as the possibility that embryonic stem cells are used (see ethical assessment of the use of embryonic stem cells HERE) in their production or the future possibility that brain organoids develop a certain degree of consciousness (see HERE).
Embryoids are becoming increasingly similar to real embryos
Nevertheless, human embryo models – embryoids – present some additional issues, especially when the possibility is raised that these models are becoming increasingly similar to real embryos. In this respect, the models are improving, having managed to incorporate tissues that emulate extra-embryonic structures, such as the amniotic sac and placenta, in mice.
Our bioethical opinion
In conclusion, the use of embryoids or embryo models to study embryonic development and different drugs may constitute an alternative to the use of human embryos, which is very positive. Nevertheless, if the production of these models starts from embryonic stem cells, this advantage would be overshadowed to a large extent. Furthermore, if these embryoids were improved in the future to the point where they altere embryoid entity, it could be considered living human individuals, experimenting with them would not be ethically acceptable (see HERE and HERE possible biological status of an embryoid).