Researchers from Cambridge University have demonstrated for the first time that it is possible to make human egg and sperm cells using skin from two adults of the same sex.
The breakthrough has revealed that in just two years same-sex couples could have their own biological children, using skin cells from both parents.
The project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, was achieved at Cambridge University with Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science. Publishing their findings in the journal Cell, researchers used the skin from five adults to create stem cells that make sperm and eggs in the body. In total, they have created new cell lines from ten different donor sources – five embyros and five adults.
The team then compared the engineered stem cells with natural human stem cells from aborted human foetuses to check they have identical characteristics. The findings have been positive, also showing that this technique seems to wipe out cell mutations that occur during the aging process.
Azim Surani, leader of the project, told The Sunday Times: “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. 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.”
“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 the Weizmann Institute, added: “It has already caused interest from gay groups because of the possibility of making egg and sperm cells from parents of the same sex.”
However, he admitted his awareness of the ethical concerns that accompany the findings, in regards to the potential for ‘designer babies’, stating: “I am not in favour of creating engineered humans and the social and ethical implications need to be thought through.”
What are the other parenting options for same-sex couples?
There are four main ways for same-sex couples to have a baby. They are:
- Donor insemination – This is where a man donates sperm so a woman can inseminate herself. Insemination can be performed at home or at a fertility clinic.
- Co-parenting – Typically, this is where a lesbian and a gay man team up to have a child together. However, as a co-parent you won’t have sole custody of the child.
- Adoption – Same-sex couples can apply to adopt through a local authority or adoption agency.
- Surrogacy – This is where a woman has a baby for another couple who can’t conceive themselves. This is quite a rare occurrence due to the difficulty of arrangements.
For information and advice about your parenting options, or any other LGBT support, you can contact Stonewall on 0800 050 20 20. (This is a Freephone number, you will not be charged. 0800 numbers along with all 03 phone numbers are included within your allowance from a mobile phone.)