Scientists at a private US fertility clinic have developed 12 new embryo stem cell (ES cell) lines, using embryos donated by couples who underwent PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) to avoid passing on a genetic condition to their child. The cell lines include those carrying gene mutations involved in two forms of muscular dystrophy, two blood diseases and a cause of developmental delay. The researchers, based at the Reproductive Genetics Institute in Chicago, say the new cell lines could help develop new treatments for these genetic conditions.
PGD involves genetically testing embryos created using in IVF so that only those embryos free from a particular inherited condition can be returned to the womb. The Chicago scientists used embryos that were found to be affected, and would otherwise have been discarded. They managed to isolate ES cells from the embryos, the first to be created from embryos with specific diseases, according to Leonard Zon, president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. 'We may learn a lot about the biology of basic disease by having these lines available', he said. Since ES cells can develop into any type of human cell, watching such cell lines develop into particular tissues could shed light on the disease process, and could also be used to test new treatments.
The new cell lines have genetic mutations that cause myotonic dystrophy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, neurofibromatosis type 1, Marfan syndrome, Fanconi anaemia, beta thalassaemia and Fragile X syndrome. PGD can be used to screen for more than 100 different diseases, and the researchers plan to create additional affected cell lines in the future. Team leader Yury Verlinsky presented details of the work at the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, held in Boston last week.
The new ES cells are among 50 new cell lines isolated by researchers at the Chicago clinic, all of which will be available to other privately-funded scientists, says Verlinsky. The news follows recent calls for President Bush to relax the restrictions placed upon federally-funded ES cell researchers, who are not allowed to use any ES cells created after 9 August 2001.