Researchers working with human embryonic stem cells are forming collaborative relationships with doctors at fertility clinics because the two groups are pursuing answers to some of the same questions. The development of techniques to better grow stem cells in laboratories will lead to better techniques to grow an embryo before it is implanted in a would-be mother's womb. Researchers in the field expect embryonic stem cell research to produce knowledge helpful in improving assisted reproduction technologies before the same research leads to development of stem cell therapies and growth of replacement organs.
Stem cell laboratories often use many of the same methods as those used to help couples conceive.
"These are technical advances," Snyder said, citing examples such as finding the best ways of thawing and freezing embryos or determining which materials make the best surfaces on which to place reproductive materials in a laboratory.
Better knowledge about fetal cell feeding and chemical signalling holds the promise of identifying the reasons why miscarriages occur and the development of ways to prevent miscarriages.
Scientists are only beginning to glimpse all the intricate interactions that go on between the cells of the embryo and its environment. By using placental cells in the laboratory, Fisher said, researchers for the first time are able to "characterize the interactions" each step along the way.
Those findings may help shape stem cell treatments. Back in the IVF clinic, Cedars hopes to use the findings much sooner.
"You can take it one step further and apply it to the fetus in utero, into perhaps better ways to promote fetal health," she said, adding that some of the greatest frustrations in IVF occur when someone manages to become pregnant and then miscarries.
The researchers interviewed for the article say they think it ironic that while embryonic stem cell research is seen in some quarters as a product of killing of early stage human life the research will be used eventually to avoid miscarriages and to allow more pregnancies to be started.
Of course the opponents of embryonic stem cell research could argue that some of the information that will be discovered by human embryonic stem cell research could also be discovered by embryonic stem cell research on other species. Still, any new technique that appears to help to grow non-human embryonic cells still has to be verified as working on human embryonic cells as well. In fact, the various mammalian species differ significantly in the difficulty of doing reproductive cloning and in growing their embryonic cells in culture. So not all knowledge is going to be equally applicable across species.
Since the state of California is now going to fund human embryonic stem cell research at a high enough level to make substantial progress it seems reasonable to expect many advances in the coming years in techniques for assisted reproduction and for maintaining healthy pregnancies. The ethical arguments are going to continue. But the science is going to be done.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2005 February 23 10:48 PM Biotech Reproduction|