August 23, 2006
Stem Cells Extracted Without Destroying Embryos

Biotech company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) has announced development of a technique that can extract pluripotent human embryonic stem cells from a human embryo without destroying the embryo. In theory this technique provides a way to get human embryonic stem cells without destroying what some religious people think is a human life.

Alameda, CA, August 23, 2006 – Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. (OTC Bulletin Board: ACTC.OB) today reported that company scientists have successfully generated human embryonic stem cells (hES cells) using an approach that does not harm embryos. The technique is reported in an article appearing online (ahead of print) in the journal Nature. The article describes a method for deriving stem cells from human blastomeres with a single-cell biopsy technique called Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). This technique is used in in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics to assess the genetic health of preimplantation embryos. The cell lines produced using this technique appear to be identical to hES cell lines derived from later stage embryos using techniques that destroy the embryo’s developmental potential. ACT had previously reported the successful use of a similar technique in mice in Nature in October 2005.

“Until now, embryonic stem cell research has been synonymous with the destruction of human embryos,” stated Robert Lanza, M.D., Vice President of Research & Scientific Development at ACT, and the study’s senior author. “We have demonstrated, for the first time, that human embryonic stem cells can be generated without interfering with the embryo’s potential for life. Overnight culture of a single cell obtained through biopsy allows both PGD and the development of stem-cell lines without affecting the subsequent chances of having a child. To date, over 1,500 healthy children have been born following the use of PGD.”

Current technology derives hES cells from the inner cell mass of later-stage embryos known as blastocysts, destroying their potential for further development. ACT’s approach generates human embryonic stem cells from a single cell obtained from an 8-cell-stage embryo.

The researchers used left-over embryos from fertility clinics which use IVF to create embryos for implantation.

To create hES cell lines, the researchers used single cells obtained from unused embryos produced by IVF for clinical purposes. Nineteen stem-cell outgrowths and two stable hES cell lines were obtained. These cell lines were genetically normal and retained their potential to form all of the cells in the human body, including nerve, liver, blood, vascular, and retinal cells that could potentially be used to treat a range of human diseases.

“One of the major ethical objections of those who oppose the generation of human embryonic stems cells is that all techniques, until now, have resulted in the destruction of the embryo,” stated Ronald Green, Ph.D., Director of Dartmouth College’s Ethics Institute and Chairman of ACT’s Ethics Advisory Board. “This technique overcomes this hurdle and has the potential to play a critical role in the advancement of regenerative medicine. It also appears to be a way out of the current political impasse in this country and elsewhere.”

But some human embryonic stem cell research opponents remained unpersuaded.

But the new method, reported yesterday by researchers at Advanced Cell Technology on the Web site of the journal Nature, had little immediate effect on longstanding objections of the White House and some Congressional leaders yesterday. It also brought objections from critics who warned of possible risk to the embryo and the in vitro fertilization procedure itself, in which embryos are generated from a couple’s egg and sperm.

Regarding possible risks: Trying to get a pregnancy started the natural way poses large risks to the eggs that get fertilized using old fashioned sexual procreation. Perhaps half of all conceptions spontaneously abort with most never even recognized as pregnancies.

The incidence of spontaneous abortion is estimated to be 50% of all pregnancies, based on the assumption that many pregnancies abort spontaneously with no clinical recognition.

Estimates for the percentage of clinically recognizeable pregnancies that miscarry range from 10% to 15% to 15% to 20%.

I predict that advances in reproductive biotechnology will eventually lead to the ability to create embryos and start pregnancies that have a far higher chance of going to term than pregnancies started the natural way.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 August 23 10:56 PM  Biotech Stem Cells

John Schloendorn said at August 25, 2006 5:31 PM:

As far as I know, all ES lines are made from leftover IVF embryos. What difference could it possibly make to the conservatives whether such embryos get tossed, or have a cell removed, an ES line made, and then get tossed?

Garson Poole said at August 26, 2006 1:49 AM:

One objection that an opponent of the new stem cell procedure raised in the New York Times article is stated as follows: "You are creating a twin and then killing that twin." This may sound absurd to some, but it is probably persuasive to some opponents. In any case, there is a valuable reply to this claim presented in the following Washington Post article excerpt:

Others expressed concern that the single cell removed from an eight-cell embryo might, under certain conditions, itself be capable of becoming an embryo and eventually a baby. If so, the destruction of the cell might violate the president's insistence that scientists not take what some consider a life to save a life.
Experiments have shown that some mammals can develop from a single cell taken from a four-cell embryo. But several scientists yesterday said no mammal has ever been grown from a single cell taken from an eight-cell embryo -- a more advanced stage of development in which each cell has already become somewhat specialized.

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