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Stem cells isolated without harming embryos

14 January 2008
Appeared in BioNews 440

A team of researchers in the US has created human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines without destroying the embryos in the process. They hope these findings will change the legislation limiting federal funding for hESC research in the US.

The scientists at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), in Massachusetts, reported in the journal Cell Stem Cell that they have grown five new robust hESC lines by plucking single cells, 'blastomeres', from the embryo at the early blastocyst stage. This technique mimics 'PGD', a process routinely used by IVF doctors to screen embryos for genetic disorders before implanting them in the uterus.

The work builds on findings reported in August 2006, when Lanza demonstrated 'proof of principle' for the technique. In the latest study, Lanza showed that the embryos survived to the 10-cell stage 80 per cent of the time, the same rate as IVF embryo survival, and that the embryos can be frozen for potential future IVF use. Current hESC technology involves plucking cells at a later developmental stage from the entire mass of embryonic cells, which results in the destruction of the embryo. The work has also been replicated by Olga Genbacev's team at the University of California at San Fransisco.

The political effect of this achievement could potentially be extremely significant. The Bush Administration limited hESC research funded by federal grants in the US in 2001, citing ethical issues raised by the destruction of embryos in the process, which has hampered rapid progression of research. This issue, however, is avoided by the new technique, and scientists hope pressure will be put on the Bush Administration to lift the heavy restrictions.

Privately funded research schemes using hESCs, such as ACT, have no such restrictions.

The main consequence of the study is that many more hESC lines could now be produced for critical research into many diseases which are causing needless deaths. 'We could double or triple the number of hESC lines available within a few months', says Lanza, who has already approached the White House about endorsing the technique, 'I hope the President will act now and approve these hESC lines quickly'.

There is still likely to be some opposition to this research, for example from religious activists who claim that the work is still exploiting and potentially harming the embryos despite their survival.

Embryo-friendly technique produces stem cells
Reuters |  10 January 2008
Embryos Survive Stem Cell Harvest
Scientific American |  10 January 2008
Firm says it can get stem cells with no harm to embryos
The Boston Globe |  11 January 2008
Human Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Generated without Embryo Destruction
Cell Stem Cell |  10 January 2008
Stem cell breakthrough leaves embryos unharmed
New Scientist |  10 January 2008
27 November 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
The journal Nature this week published clarification of a controversial research paper which claimed that embryonic stem (ES) cell lines could be produced by extracting a single cell from an early embryo without destroying the embryo. Dr Robert Lanza of US biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technologies and...
17 September 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
American biotech company WiCell, based in Wisconsin, has agreed to help distribute any stem cell lines created using a new, still controversial, technique developed by Advanced Cell Technologies (ACT). The new technique was reported in Nature on 24 August and describes a 'proof of principle' that stem...
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...
29 August 2006 - by Josephine Quintavalle 
The news last week that Robert Lanza's team at Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) had developed a compromise way of creating embryonic stem (ES) cells from human embryos, without killing them, brought a temporary cease-fire to the battle surrounding this contentious area of stem cell research. The international media was excited...
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