New Method of Making Embryonic Stem Cells Has Researchers Hopeful

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 8, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

New Method of Making Embryonic Stem Cells Has Researchers Hopeful Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
March 8, 2005

Boston, MA ( — A new method of creating embryonic stem cells has some researchers hopeful that they will have a better chance of being used in medical therapies. The news doesn’t mitigate the moral concerns and objections from pro-life advocates.

Most of the embryonic stem cell lines that have been produced, including virtually all of those eligible 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 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.

However, Dr. Robert Lanza of Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology, a biotech firm, tells Reuters that a new method of creating embryonic stem cells may solve the problem.

"The science now exists to produce new lines that will be safe," he said.

Lanza’s company has worked with teams at the Harvard Medical School and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Their work, published in an article in the medical journal Lancet, follows similar research conducted by scientists at the University of Wisconsin.

In February, the Wisconsin scientists say they were able to get some of the embryonic stem cells separated from the mouse feeder cells.

ACT took this research a step further growing embryonic stem cells from scratch harvested by killing human embryos from fertility clinics.

"The importance of this work, of course, is that by eliminating contact with animal and human cells, you minimize the risk of contamination with pathogens that could be transmitted to patients and the population at large," Lanza told Reuters.

However, Outi Hovatta of Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet and Heli Skottman of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Finland’s University of Tampere say that the new embryonic stem cells still contain some animal cells and that the new methods haven’t fully erased contamination concerns.

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.

Pro-life groups oppose embryonic stem cell research because it destroys human life. They say the use of adult stem cells is more ethical and has been more effective.