Breakthroughs for in vitro technology were published in the journal Nature on Thursday.

Researchers displayed how embryologists managed to keep human embryos alive for 13 days, thus surpassing the previous mark of 9 days. Researchers would be able to “learn things we cannot even imagine,” according to Ali Brivanlou, one of the researchers from Rockefeller University.

Although, many ethical questions arise as analysis and research on fertilized human embryos steps on the borderline of human experimentation. So, the status of early-stage humans is not yet clearly determined based on the lifespan of the embryos.

11 day development human embryo
An image showing the development of a human embryo at 11 days into research at the University of Cambridge. Image Credit: RT

Weighing ethics against science

Scientists argue the main benefit to be gained from the research of two-week-old embryos come through a deeper understanding in the causes behind birth defects. In addition to miscarriages, limb regeneration and many other areas of biological engineering.

The current legal limitations state that scientists cannot develop human embryos beyond the 14-day mark. The research team argues that it is necessary the current limit must be severely reviewed. Considering the field of embryonic research is still essentially unexplored.

The first 15 days of an human embryo’s life are when the basic body shape is determined. This period is known as the “primitive streak,” where the characterizing symmetry of our bodies begins to shape our matching pairs of limbs and organs. But researchers reckon the 14-day rule consists in a public and quasi-ethical policy that exists to allow both scientific research and difference in opinion regarding research on early stages of human development.

Currently, the limiting periods for abortion are 23 weeks for the U.S. and 12 weeks for the U.K. Many analysts are certain that there is no chance of removing – let alone modifying – the current embryo research day limit.

Some scientists in the area of early stages of human development argue that unrestricted research would provide important insight on genetic deficiencies. Including genetic deficiencies such as autism, transmission of infectious diseases through childbirth and fetal alcohol syndrome. However, there is still doubt about whether people understand the implications of this type of scientific research.

Although the ideal research scenario would be to abolish the 14-day limit, then the question would rise of where should the next limit be imposed. Some may argue that there should be no limit whatsoever. But antiabortion organizations are already putting pressure over human-embryo research, arguing that human life begins at conception. The possibility of further studying the early stages of an embryo would provide massive amounts of scientific progress regarding the whole area of human development.

Source: Nature