Harvard Scientists: Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternatives Flawed

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 4, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Harvard Scientists: Embryonic Stem Cell Research Alternatives Flawed Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
January 4, 2005

Boston, MA (LifeNews.com) — Three Harvard University scientists say that proposed alternatives to obtain embryonic stem cells from without sacrificing human life are impractical. Members of the President’s Council on Bioethics head the ideas last month on a possible compromise on the controversial issue.

Stanford University biochemist Dr. William Hurlbut, a member of the bioethics panel who opposes the destruction of human life through cloning, presented one proposal.

His technique, called alternate nuclear transfer, involves turning off certain developmental genes and causing a nonfertilized egg to divide and multiply as it would if fertilized by human sperm.

What would be created wouldn’t be a unique human being, but a nonhuman embryo from which stem cells could be extracted.

However, two leading Harvard University researchers who favor embryonic stem cell research call the proposal "scientifically flawed."

Writing in last week’s edition of the New England Journal of Medicine, Harvard biologist Douglas Melton said the Hurlbut’s process would be virtually impossible to recreate.

”This would not only waste valuable time, but also precious resources," Melton wrote.

Melton, who heads up the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, told the Boston Globe that the Hurlbut proposal would require experiments that could take years to determine whether the idea is plausible. In the meantime, Melton said, lawmakers and scientists must make decisions about how to proceed with stem cell research and whether to use human embryos.

Hurlbut told the Globe that Melton’s article discussed only one method of putting his idea into practice. He said there were other ways to create the nonhuman embryos he suggested to the Bioethics Council.

Hurlbut indicated that a conference of scientists and researchers was gathering in April in Washington to discuss his idea further.

Columbia University researchers Donald Landry and Howard Zucker presented another idea to the President’s bioethics advisory group. They argue that scientists could extract embryonic stem cells from human embryos originally created through in vitro fertilization that are thought to be no longer capable of being born.

They liken the process of taking stem cells from such "deceased" frozen embryos to organ donation.

Pro-life advocates have reacted cautiously and with guarded optimism that the two alternatives could provide stem cells without destroying human life.

Dr. George Q. Daley of Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Charles Jennings, executive director of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, co-authored the article with Melton.