Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Contaminated, Unusable for Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 24, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Contaminated, Unusable for Research Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt
LifeNews.com Editor
January 24, 2005

Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — The only embryonic stem cell lines that qualify for federal funding are contaminated with animal cells that make them unusable for research or potential treatments.

When creating the stem cells lines by destroying human embryos, scientists injected the human cells with mouse cells to help them grow faster. The process contaminated them.

The human immune system is built to reject foreign cells – something that gives adult stem cells an advantage – and it would seek out and destroy the contaminated cells if injected into the human body in a treatment.

Dr. Ajit Varki, a specialist in cell biology at the University of California, San Diego, made the announcement about the contamination over the weekend.

"Even worse, in the process of killing the contaminated cells, the patient might have a bad reaction," Varki explained. "It could be like receiving a bad blood transfusion."

The full details of the problems are unveiled in the January 23 issue of Nature Medicine magazine after first outlined to a panel of stem cell research experts in October.

"They use cells from mouse embryos, called ‘feeder cells,’" Varki explained. "They also put — as in most culture mediums — serum [blood] from animals to help grow the cells."

Paul R. Sanberg, a University of South Florida stem cell researcher told ScoutNews that the development "is going to slow things down in embryonic stem cell research."

The findings are sure to cause political controversy.

Pro-life groups will hail the news as another defeat for embryonic stem cells and point to adult stem cells – which come from more ethical sources – as a better alternative. Adult stem cell research has been the only type to produce any cures for patients.

Advocates of embryonic stem cell research, on the other hand, will likely say the development makes it even more important to spend billions of state or federal tax dollars on the unproven research.

"This is yet another reason to look at non-embryonic [adult] stem cell sources, such as umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, fat cells, other types," Sanberg said.

In August 2001, President Bush issued an executive order preventing federal funding of any new embryonic stem cell research. His order allowed funding only for embryonic stem cell lines that had already been created. Those lines are the ones that scientists say are contaminated.

Bush’s order authorized more than $190 million for funding of adult stem cell research, which has already produced dozens of treatments.

Despite the limitations on research with humans, Dr. Varki said the stem cell lines in question could still be used on research involving animals.