Stem Cell Breakthrough Does Not Harm Embryo – Uses Only One Cell Saving Embryo

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A California company says they have found a way to successfully generate human embryonic stem cells (hES cells) using an “approach that does not harm embryos.” If the research can be repeated in other laboratories, this could help ease the objections made by those opposed to using hES for research and possible treatments.

The technique involves deriving stem cells from human blastomeres with a single-cell biopsy technique called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). Scientists take a single cell from an early stage embryo and then use it to “seed” a line of stem cells. Since the rest of the embryo still has the potential to develop into a healthy human, a Whitehouse spokesman called the finding encouraging.

The report says PGD is the same technique used in in-vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics to assess the genetic health of pre-implantation embryos. Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. says this method is better because it does not involve later stage embryos. The current method of deriving hES is considered more efficient but does involve destroying the embryo’s development potential. Comment on this Article on our Forum

Doctor Robert Lanza says “Until now, embryonic stem cell research has been synonymous with the destruction of human embryos. We have demonstrated, for the first time, that human embryonic stem cells can be generated without interfering with the embryo’s potential for life. Overnight culture of a single cell obtained through biopsy allows both PGD and the development of stem-cell lines without affecting the subsequent chances of having a child. To date, over 1,500 healthy children have been born following the use of PGD.” Lanza is Vice President of Research & Scientific Development at ACT, and the study’s senior author.

“One of the major ethical objections of those who oppose the generation of human embryonic stems cells is that all techniques, until now, have resulted in the destruction of the embryo,” stated Ronald Green, Ph.D., Director of Dartmouth College’s Ethics Institute and Chairman of ACT’s Ethics Advisory Board. “This technique overcomes this hurdle and has the potential to play a critical role in the advancement of regenerative medicine. It also appears to be a way out of the current political impasse in this country and elsewhere.”

“Our policy will be to work together with the scientific community to make new lines widely available for research,” stated William M. Caldwell IV, CEO of ACT. “Our ability to create human embryonic cell lines and therapies without harming the embryo should assuage the ethical concerns of many Americans. We look forward to potentially working with partners to produce significant medical benefit through the use of this technique.”

“While the continual advancement of science may, from time to time, appear to influence the political debate over human embryonic stem cell research, there are a host of good reasons to continue to allow and fund responsible and well-regulated embryo research, which may speed therapies to the bedside and improve reproductive medicine,” said Michael D. West, Ph.D., President and Chief Scientific Officer of ACT.

Not everyone is convinced this is an ethical approach. According to an Associate Press report, hard-line opponents of stem cell science argue that the technique solves nothing, because even the single cell removed by the new approach could theoretically grow into a full-fledged human. Comment on this Article on our Forum

Some also worry that this technique could harm the embryo in an unknown way. But the procedure has already been used by parents who want to avoid having a child with a lethal or severely debilitating birth defect. AP reports that about 1,000 such procedures are performed each year in the United States and NBC reports that these embryos are “usually” not destroyed. .

Robert Bazell of NBC News warns that this company has made skeptical claims before, with some panning out and others not. The research piggybacks on research done on mice which was published in the October 2005 journal Nature. This new research is appears online (ahead of print) in the journal Nature.

By Dan Wilson

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