Many ethical questions arose with the advent of genetic engineering, and subsequently, many research guidelines were published. One of the most important was the “14-day rule”, created in the 1970s, with the advent of in vitro fertilization (IVF). The rule decreed that experimental embryos would not be allowed to grow after 14 days. Because on the 15th, the primitive streak forms. This stage marks the start of gastrulation – i.e. when the embryo transforms from a single cell layered organism to a multiple layered one.
A 15-day old Embryo
However, scientists now feel that this rule is outdated. They feel the rule limits research into embryonic developments after 14 days. Especially since genetic engineering has now advanced into remarkable categories like genome editing and human-animal hybrid chimeras.
According to Professor Melissa Little, Chief Scientist, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and incoming President of the ISSCR “New scientific approaches are continuing emerge in all areas, but notably around stem cell science. Some of these emerging technologies present ethical challenges, even when the benefit to human health may be the long term objective.”
“This is particularly so in research modeling the human embryo and generating human-animal chimeric tissues. The fact that these guidelines have been developed by the research community itself indicates a deep sense of responsibility and integrity and an active desire to ensure that the science is in step with the community.”
Therefore this month, the International Society of Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) released newly updated guidelines for embryonic research. These guidelines relax the 14 day rule, allowing research to progress after the former timeline. However, each research will be subject to rigorous scientific and ethical review before being allowed to progress.
The authors believe that this change will be most useful in allowing scientists to understand developmental disorders in children. They may also be able to understand and eventually prevent miscarriages.
They also predict a public reaction to this change, particularly in regards to chimera research. However, the authors believe that chimera research has the potential to reveal new important information. They are confident that researchers adhering to these guidelines will be able to navigate their research more efficiently.