Adult Stem Cell Therapy Blog

Scientists Make Human Stem Cells Without Destroying the Embryo

Thursday, August 24, 2006 - Stem Cell Guru

The big stem cells news today, which you'll see on CNN and in every major newspaper, is that scientists have found a way to make human embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos, a breakthrough that could overcome intense ethical objections to the research.

The Guardian (UK) newspaper has a full report on the research including comments from fellow researchers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Scientists in the US claim their technique sidesteps objections to embryonic stem cell research by not harming embryos, and so gives researchers an ethical way to create valuable stockpiles of stem cells for the first time.

British experts applauded the discovery yesterday, but raised questions about its success rate and the practical benefits it would bring to patients.

Scientists led by Robert Lanza at Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts created the stem cells by adapting a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which is already used in fertility clinics to check IVF embryos for genetic defects.

Dr Lanza's group showed that the single cell removed from an embryo can be grown into many cells overnight, and some of those can then be turned into embryonic stem cells.

However, the research has raised concerns among scientists and lobby groups. Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: "We still don't know the dangers of taking a biopsy from an early stage embryo, whether it has any effect on the baby's future development. On paper it looks like an ethical solution, but that requires the biopsy to be completely harmless."

Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem cell expert at the National Institute for Medical Research in London, said that while the work was important, it was inefficient and unlikely to lead to plentiful stocks of embryonic stem cells. "It requires couples having IVF to give permission to have cells taken from their embryos and it's extremely unlikely a couple would want to do that," he said.

Other scientists said the research was merely an attempt to circumvent strict laws on stem cell research in the US. Peter Braude, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at King's College London, said: "This is a way of trying to get around legislation, not practise science. The bottom line is if you believe there is a future in stem cell research, one has to pursue all sorts of ways of growing them."

Prof Braude said he doubted whether the controversy could be avoided by the American breakthrough. "We don't undertake embryo biopsy willy-nilly, as it is better not to remove a cell from a developing embryo unless one really has to," he said. "I certainly cannot see why one would wish to try and remove a cell from a healthy embryo with such low odds of developing a stem line from it when many thousands of useful cells are harvested from a baby's placenta at birth, if one needed to do it. Equally, I'm not persuaded by arguments that this is a more ethical way of getting stem cell lines, as it is not impossible that biopsy compromises the developing embryo from which one removes the cell."


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