Umbilical Cord Blood Produces Ethical Embryonic Stem Cells

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 18, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Umbilical Cord Blood Produces Ethical Embryonic Stem Cells Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 18, 2005

London, England ( — British and American researchers have produced embryonic-like stem cells from umbilical cord blood. The news is a breakthrough that could have serious ramifications in the debate between adult and embryonic stem cell research.

Backers of research on cells obtain from destroying human embryos say such cells are more versatile and offer more promise for cures, despite not having cured a single patient yet. But pro-life advocates oppose such research because it involves the destruction of human life.

The researchers may have found a way around the debate in a report that appears in the August issue of Cell Proliferation.

"This is the first time that a team has been able to get stem cells from a non-embryonic source with embryonic stem cell characteristics," said study co-author Nico Forraz, a senior researcher at the Kingston University School of Life Sciences in the U.K.

"It’s incredibly exciting," said study co-author Larry Denner, associate director of research at the Stark Diabetes Center, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston. "Being able to use pluripotent stem cells (stem cells that can become any type of cell) that are available from cord blood really speaks for itself. The potential is there."

The scientists developed a technique that allows them to remove all of the mature cells from the cord blood. Doing so exposed a small group of cells with features similar to embryonic stem cells. Such cells are very rare.

"We take a third of a cup of cord blood, and we get 50,000 potential stem cells, and of these there may only be a couple that are embryonic-like stem cells," Denner noted.

Forraz believes these embryonic like cells will have great effect in treating diseases.

"This offers a great source of flexibility compared to embryonic stem cells. Despite all the ethical controversy, scientifically, there are already over 1 million cord blood samples banked. It widens the possibility of clinical applications," he told HealthDaily.

Denner said he’s excited about what he’s seen from the cells so far.

"They certainly share many of characteristics we have tested so far," he said. "They have a lot of key characteristics with embryonic stem cells; whether they’re identical or not is still a question. But if they act like embryonic stem cells, it may not be necessary to prove they are identical."

British researcher Dr. Colin McGuckin said the new cells could be more effective than embryonic stem cells.

"Acquiring stem cells from embryos also has major limitations because it is difficult to obtain enough cells to transplant as well as getting the right tissue type for the patient," he said. "Using cord blood gets over that obstacle because we can produce more stem cells and, with a global birth rate of 100 million babies a year, there is a better chance of getting the right tissue type for the many patients out there waiting for stem cell therapy."

"There is also far less likelihood of such cells being rejected when they are transplanted into people with liver disease, for example," McGuckin added.