UCSB Science Line
Sponge Spicules Nerve Cells Galaxy Abalone Shell Nickel Succinate X-ray Lens Lupine
UCSB Science Line
How it Works
Ask a Question
Search Topics
Our Scientists
Science Links
Contact Information
Is there a way for a mammalian (specifically human) fetus in vitro to grow and develop into a/an (human) infant? If so, what would the process look like? How could this be ethically tested and achieved?
Question Date: 2019-01-10
Answer 1:

This is being researched right now. You can probably imagine that there are some circumstances where a fetus can’t be carried to term because of the mother’s health. A fertilized egg or early embryo can just be transferred into the uterus of another female of the same species, but things are not that simple later on in development.

Right now, scientists are working on growing lambs inside an artificial uterus in hopes of someday making it a way to save very premature babies. You can see the setup and story at: premature lambs .

Right now, there are many questions and potential problems with the procedure, and it will probably take years before it could even be tested on humans. Because there are so many risks, and it would probably be very expensive, it would probably only be used in rare or extreme cases.

Can you think of some legal or ethical questions that this technology might raise?

Thanks for asking,

Answer 2:

Scientists are working on developing human embryos in vitro, but we currently aren’t able to develop one into a human infant. Learn more about it here.

The ethics are still up for debate whether or not scientists should be pursuing this kind of research, which can raise really interesting questions for philosophical debate on the ethics of scientific research and advancement.

Answer 3:

Not at the present level of medical technology, no - a fetus needs a mother in order to grow. Note that the mother that the fetus grows in and ultimately is born to does not need to be the same woman that the egg cell that went to create the fetus, however.

Answer 4:

It is possible and it’s actually been done! Some developmental biologists in the UK attempted to grow human embryos in the lab, and the embryos made it until about 13 days. The process is very difficult due to the strictly controlled environments, but this kind of research can actually help us understand things like how developmental disorders develop and why some pregnancies fail.

However, on the ethical side of things, there is an internationally recognized rule that limits work on human embryos past 14-days. This is around the time the nervous system starts to develop. However, the limit is hypothetical and many think it is possible to grow them past this. I’m sure we’ll see more research into this in the near future!

Click Here to return to the search form.

University of California, Santa Barbara Materials Research Laboratory National Science Foundation
This program is co-sponsored by the National Science Foundation and UCSB School-University Partnerships
Copyright © 2020 The Regents of the University of California,
All Rights Reserved.
UCSB Terms of Use