The US company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) has successfully produced human embryonic stem cells (ES cells) without destroying any embryos. The research was announced by Robert Lanza, Vice President of ACT, at the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) meeting in Australia. The technique involves removing a single cell (known as a blastomere) from an eight cell embryo and using the it to create an ES cell-line; the embryo can then go on to develop normally. The same technique is used in PGD of embryos for genetic conditions. It is hoped that the technique will get around the current US ban on the use of government funding in stem cell research.
ACT's research was initially met with controversy. A paper, detailing how ES cells could be produced without destroying the embryo was first published in Nature in August 2006. It later transpired, however, that Lanza and his team did in fact destroy embryos during their research, through taking multiple biopsies. Lanza is now reported to have reproduced the research on embryos which remain viable. He told ScienceNOW: 'These are the first human embryonic stem cells in existence to be made without destroying an embryo'.
The research was announced within days of the US President, George Bush, exercising his presidential veto to prevent the use of government funding in human ES cell research. Lanza and his team are currently in discussions with the US National Institutes of Health, to see if the technique will side-step the federal funding ban.
Meanwhile, a Scottish team of researchers has developed a human ES cell line using a clinically unusable egg. Paul De Sousa, Roslin Cells' chief scientific officer, told the ISSCR: 'Typically, up to 30 per cent of eggs in an IVF treatment cycle will be unusable as they fail to fertilise or do so abnormally', adding 'these eggs could not develop into a viable embryo and are therefore normally discarded in routine IVF treatment'. The research could help overcome the current shortage of egg cells for use in stem cell research.