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Researchers claim 'ethical' stem cell breakthrough

Thursday, August 24, 2006. ABC News

The researchers say they have developed an acceptable alternative to destroying embryos
A team of US researchers say they have developed a way to make human embryonic stem cells without harming the original embryo, a finding it says could dispel ethical objections to promising medical research using such cells.

"It is possible to generate stem cells without destroying the embryo and without destroying its potential for life," chief scientist Dr Robert Lanza said.

The standard method of obtaining stem cells is to grow a fertilized embryo to 100 cells stage. Then the embryo was destroyed and the stem cells harvested. At that stage, the embryo is like a ball of cells. The outer layer of cells will develop into the placenta and umbilical cord while the cells in the centre will form the organs and the body. The cells in the centre are called stem cells. Hence obtaining stem cells will means destroying the embryo.

What Dr. Lanza did was to remove some stem cells from the embryo without destroying the embryo. He has developed a technique which works with mice embryos. He allows a fertilised egg to develop into an 8 cells stage (blastocyte). Then he removed one cell which he culture in the lab to form stem cell lines. The remaining embryo with the 7 cells are reimplanted into the womb and was able to grow to term. The report was inaccurate in that Dr. Lanza did not work with human embryos. All experiments were done on mice.

On the surface, this will solve some of the objections to stem cell research. Many people objected to stem cell research because the embryo has to be destroyed to obtain the stem cells. Here no embryos were destroyed. However, it remains to be seen if it will work in humans.

I do have a question here, which Dr.Lanza did not address in his Nature articles or his company, Advanced cell Technology ‘s press releases. I am also surprised it is not noted in the few medical ethicists who commented on the issue. Is the one cell from a 8 cell blastocyte a stem cell? That is an important question which was not answered.

|24 August 2006|


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