Bioethics News

Parthenogenesis – A new possibility for regenerative medicine and a new bioethical dilemma

Parthenogenesis have allowed pluripotent stem cells to be obtained from oocytes (eggs) which have been stimulated to divide without having been fertilised by sperm. Can individuals be obtained from parthenogenesis? What is a partenote?

Introduction

A recent sentence from the European Court of Justice supports the possibility of patenting stem cells from ova (eggs) whose development has been stimulated without fertilisation, with the condition that this stimulated egg cannot become a human being1.

Biotechnology company International Stem Cell Corporation (ISCO) has submitted two patent applications to the appropriate authorities in the United Kingdom; these relate to a technology that produces stem cells from ova activated without sperm, using chemical and electrical techniques, by a process known as parthenogenesis.

London turned down both applications, pursuant to a Justice Court decision in 2011. However, the company appealed, alleging that the restrictions on patentability set by this ruling are not applicable to their technology, since the activated ovum cannot become a human being because it lacks paternal DNA.

The ruling was favourable to the company, on the basis that “in order to be classified as a human embryo, a non-fertilised human ovum must necessarily have the inherent capacity of developing into a human being”. “Consequently, the mere fact that a parthenogenetically-activated human ovum commences a process of development is not sufficient for it to be regarded as a human embryo“, as set forth in the judgment.

So, what is parthenogenesis?                                                                                                                       

The reproductive possibility known as “parthenogenesis”, which occurs naturally in some reptiles and lower animals, was first artificially induced in sea urchins in 1899 by German-American scientist Jacques Loeb (1859-1924).

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.