New Embryonic Stem Cell Research Holds Promise, Problems

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 23, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

New Embryonic Stem Cell Research Holds Promise, Problems Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
August 23, 2005

Boston, MA ( — Harvard researchers say they have discovered a way to combine embryonic stem cells with adult human skin cells to make new embryonic stem cells. The results could eliminate the need for further destruction of unborn children for embryonic stem cells if scientists can simply make new embryonic cells from existing ones.

In addition, if researchers can change adult stem cells back into their embryonic state, that may also change the dynamics of the stem cell research debate.

The Harvard report appeared in the August 22 early online release of the journal Science and it outlined another benefit of the new cells — avoiding patient rejection associated with embryonic stem cells.

"The long-term goal of these experiments is to make embryonic stem cells," said researcher Kevin Carl Eggan, an assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University.

"The advantage is that one can make an embryonic stem cell line that carries the particular genes of the patient. This can be used to treat that patient without the potential for rejection," he explained.

However, he said clinical use of the newly-derived cells could be a decade away.

Meanwhile, pro-life advocates are hopeful but cautious.

"It’s encouraging to me that some scientists ‘get it’ — in other words, they realize that the majority of Americans oppose destroying embryos for research and harvesting lots of human eggs,” says David Prentice of the Family Research Council.

"One of the ingredients they started with is a human embryonic stem cell — which had to come from destroying a human embryo. So they still have a way to go before they can say this is ethical research," he cautioned.

This isn’t the first time scientists have been able to turn adult stem cells into embryonic ones.

A team of Texas and British researchers revealed they have generated what appear to be embryonic stem cells from umbilical cord blood and University of Pittsburgh scientists said they have discovered embryonic-like stem cells in the placenta.