Em­bryos pre­served in stem-cell cre­ation

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Joyce Howard Price

Sci­en­tist­sonAug.23re­port­edthat they have de­vised a way to cre­ate hu­man em­bry­onic stem cells that does not harm em­bryos.

Re­searchers with Ad­vanced Cell Tech­nol­ogy, a Cal­i­for­nia-based biotech­nol­ogy firm that has been on the cut­ting edge of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with­cloningand­stem cells, dis­closed their latest find­ings on­line in the jour­nal Na­ture.

They say their tech­nique of­fers a po­ten­tial so­lu­tion to the po­lit­i­cal and moral de­bate over us­ing em­bry­onic stem cells to treat life-threat­en­ing dis­eases­be­causeem­bryoshave­tobe de­stroyed.

The com­pany says its tech­nique takes just a sin­gle cell, or blas­tomere, from a two-day-old em­bryo, af­ter the fer­til­ized egg has di­vided into eight cells. They use the blas­tomere to seed a line of stem cells, which can then grow into any kind of hu­man tis­sue.

Therestoftheem­bry­ore­tain­s­the ca­pa­bil­ity to grow into a healthy hu­man, ac­cord­ing to the biotech firm, which op­er­ates in Alameda, Calif., and Worces­ter, Mass.

The cur­rent pro­ce­dure re­quires the de­struc­tion of em­bryos, con­sistin­gof100to150 cells, af­ter­about five daysofde­vel­op­ment.Har­vest­ingthe cells kills the em­bryo.

“We have demon­strated, for the first time, that hu­man em­bry­onic stem cells can be gen­er­ated with­out in­ter­fer­ing with­theem­bryo’s po­ten­tial for life,” said Dr. Robert Lanza, vice pres­i­dent of re­search and sci­en­tific de­vel­op­ment at the com­pany and the study’s se­nior au­thor.

But­few in the sci­en­tific, bioethics or pro-life com­mu­nity think the new tech­nique will end the de­bate.

“It’s sci­en­tif­i­cally in­ter­est­ing [. . .] but it’s not go­ing to settle the de­bate. If one be­lieves an em­bryo should be ac­corded the rights of pro­tec­tion of a per­son, why is it more [morally ac­cept­able] to ex­tract one cell from an em­bryo than to ex­tract many cells?” said B.D. Colen, spokesman for Har­vard Univer­sity’s Stem Cell In­sti­tute.

Cell ex­trac­tion was crit­i­cized on moral­grounds­byRichardM.Do­er­flinger, deputy di­rec­tor of the U.S. Con­fer­ence­ofCatholicBish­ops’Sec­re­tariat for Pro-Life Ac­tiv­i­ties.

“It is widely be­lieved that one cell ofav­eryear­lyem­bry­omay­sep­a­rate and­be­comeanewem­bryo,an iden­ti­cal twin,” he said.

The com­pany’s re­search pro­ducedt­wovi­ablestem-cel­lli­nes­from 16 em­bryos.

“The ex­per­i­ment it­self is gravely un­eth­i­cal, be­cause it in­volved thawingand­ma­nip­u­lat­ing16hu­manem­bryos and then dis­card­ing them,” Mr. Do­er­flinger said. “By pick­ing sin­gle cells from eight-celled em­bryosand­cul­tur­ingth­e­movernight, it is pos­si­blethere­searcher­scre­ated and de­stroyed as many as 91 ad­di­tional very early em­bryos to get two new cell lines.”

But Dr. Lanza, in a tele­phone in­ter­view, said such crit­i­cisms show “sci­en­tific ig­no­rance.”

In­there­port­inNa­ture,he­said in­di­vid­u­al­blas­tomeresinem­bryosthat have only eight to 16 cells “have never been shown to have in­trin­sic ca­pac­ity to gen­er­ate a com­plete or­gan­ism in any mam­malian species.”

The re­searchers used a fer­til­ity treat­ment known as preim­plan­ta­tion ge­netic di­ag­no­sis to cre­ate stem cells. This tech­nique is used in in­vitro fer­til­iza­tion, when one blas­tomere in an eight-cell em­bryo is re­moved and tested for ge­netic disor­ders. If no de­fect is found, the em­bryo,nowwith­seven cells, canbe im­planted in the mother.

Fed­eral fund­ing is not avail­able for most re­search in­volv­ing em­bry­onic stem cells be­cause of eth­i­cal con­cerns.

WhiteHous­espokeswom­anEmily A. Law­rimore said it is too soon to knowwhether­stud­iesus­ingth­e­new tech­nique would qual­ify for fed­eral funds.

“Any use of hu­man em­bryos for re­search­pur­pos­es­raisesse­ri­ouseth­i­cal con­cerns. This tech­nique does not re­solve those con­cerns, but it is en­cour­ag­ing to see sci­en­tists at least mak­ingse­ri­ous ef­forts to move­away from re­search that in­volves the de­struc­tion of em­bryos,” she said.

Arthur Caplan, head of the bioethics cen­ter at the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia, said, “Be­ing able to gen­er­ate a stem cell doesn’t mean that what you’ve pro­duced is go­ing to work as astem cell. This workhas to be con­firmed.”

Dr. Lanza said the com­pany is ea­ger to make its new tech­nique avail­able­tothe sci­en­tific com­mu­nity at lit­tle or no cost. He also said he is “ab­so­lutely cer­tain” the re­sults will be con­firmed.

Robert Lanza of Ad­vanced Cell Tech­nol­ogy led the re­search that pro­duced a tech­nique to with­draw a sin­gle cell from a two-day-old em­bryo in or­der to cre­ate stem-cell lines. The process al­lows the em­bryo to con­tinue de­vel­op­ing into a hu­man be­ing.

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