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IVF embryos that have ceased developing can yield new stem cells

25 September 2006
Appeared in BioNews 377

British researchers have established a new method of creating stem cells from naturally arrested, or 'dead', IVF embryos. In the journal Stem Cells, the scientists from Newcastle University demonstrated that they used five IVF embryos, that had arrested six to seven days after conception, to create embryonic stem cell (ES cell) lines that were pluripotent and could potentially develop into any type of specialised cells. This new technique could provide an ethically acceptable way of creating stem cells for research into treatments for diseases like diabetes and Parkinson's, the researchers say.

Using the arrested embryos that remain after a couple's IVF procedure would help to resolve the ethical issue of throwing embryos away. Dr. Miodrag Stojkovic, the research team leader, says: 'I think that if you are given donated human have a moral duty to use as much of the material as possible - and we have now found that we don't have to discard half of the embryos immediately, as we used to'.

Not only this, but countries such as Germany - who currently have embryo-protection laws banning stem cell extraction from developing IVF embryos - may now be able to undertake their stem cell research more efficiently and without ethical concerns. The laws in these countries do not allow researchers to harvest stem cells from viable embryos, as current techniques result in the destruction of embryos. Arrested embryos could provide a solution, since they are already non-viable prior to stem cell harvesting and therefore are not considered as potential 'persons' to be protected by these laws. Dr. Donald Landry, at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, recognises this as he comments: 'Regardless of how you feel about personhood for embryos, if the embryo is dead, then the issue of personhood is resolved'.

However, there have been some thought-provoking questions expressed regarding the quality of the stem cells resulting from the arrested embryos. 'If there is something wrong with the embryo that made it arrest, isn't there something wrong with these cells?' asks Dr. George Daley at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Although there are benefits to be gained from using naturally arrested embryos over developing ones, it appears that more studies into this new approach will be needed for crucial questions, like Daley's, to be answered fully.

Life from Arrested Development?
Science |  22 September 2006
Naturally dead embryos yield stem cells
Nature News |  21 September 2006
Scientists turn dead cells into live tissue
The Observer |  24 September 2006
11 September 2006 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The authors of a recent study describing a new way of extracting human embryonic stem (ES) cells have been accused of 'hyping' their results. The research, published by US firm Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in the journal Nature on 24 August, reported the isolation of new...
29 August 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
New research published in the journal Nature describes how a single cell taken from an IVF embryo, using a technique similar to pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), can be used to create embryonic stem (ES) cell lines. The new method leaves the embryo otherwise intact and able, in...
18 April 2005 - by BioNews 
The legislature of Washington state has rejected a bill that would have encouraged human embryonic stem (ES) cell research. The bill would have banned human reproductive cloning but would have allowed the cloning of embryos for ES cell research purposes, sometimes known as therapeutic cloning. The state's Senate voted 26...
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