The 2012 Nobel Prizes to John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka for their seminal work in nuclear transfer and induced pluripotency, coupled with the 2010 Nobel Prize to Bob Edwards for pioneering In Vitro Fertilization in humans, attests to the contemporary importance of stem cells and regenerative medicine. Now, with the dramatic survivorship rates for children treating for pediatric cancers, the need to help preserve their fertility is emerging as the new field of ‘Oncofertility.’
Are we truly on the brink of a ‘Brave New World,’ what with the emerging sophisticated technologies to generate gametes from patient’s skin cells, genetic corrections with unrivaled accuracy, disease modeling with stem cells in vitro and offspring with more than two parents? ART procedures combining with the power and sensitivity of CRISPR, which has already been used to generate genetically modified monkeys, have already been proposed for patients with hereditary disorders, as well as genetic enhancement of so-called ‘designer babies.’
This lecture considers pluripotent stem cells, their differentiation into both oocytes and sperm in vitro, their utility for modeling complex ‘diseases in a dish,’ whether some cancers have stem cell origins, as well as their fidelity. This differentiation of pluripotent stem cells into various progeny, including now oocytes and spermatids, is perplexing. In vivo, Nature imposes strict fate constraints. Yet in vitro, reprogrammed PSCs liberated from the body government freely differentiate into any phenotype (except placenta), violating even somatic vs. germ cell segregations.
Beyond the clinical opportunities afforded, we must also consider not only ‘Can we do this?’ but especially ‘Should we do this?’
Sponsored by the US National Institutes of Health.