London: Human twin embryos created in the laboratory by splitting single embryos into two using a common method may be unsuitable both for IVF and for research purposes, according to a new study.
In the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority Code of Practice makes it clear that clinics should not produce embryos for in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment by embryo splitting.
Such genetically identical embryos should be used only for research purposes.
However, in the US the Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has not indicated any major ethical objections to placing two or more artificially created embryos with the same genome into the uterus.
The new study, led by PhD student Laila Noli from King's College London, set out to determine whether the quality of human embryos generated by twinning 'in vitro' (in the laboratory) was comparable to the quality of embryos created by fertilisation.
Using time lapse monitoring, researchers compared the development of 176 twin embryos created by splitting 88 human embryos at two different stages with embryos created by IVF resulting in pregnancy and live births.
The researchers found delays in the development of the embryos generated by twinning, compared to those obtain by IVF, suggesting that a 'developmental clock' plays a critical role in earliest stages of human development and may have been interrupted by the splitting process.
"Our study suggests that a 'developmental clock' drives human early development, although we don't yet know the precise ways in which it works," said Dusko Ilic, corresponding author from the Division of Women's Health, King's College London.
"The timings set by this clock appear to be crucial for embryo development and cell commitment into different lineages," Ilic said.
"Embryo splitting interferes with this development, causing discordance in the period during which the embryo's structure would normally start to emerge and cells begin to specialise," Ilic said.
"Using a different 'twinning' method might circumvent this problem, but at present embryo twinning does not appear to be viable for IVF or research," Ilic said.
The study was published in the journal Human Reproduction.