by Steven Ertelt
September 5, 2005
Baltimore, MD (LifeNews.com) — Scientists are intensely concerned about a discovery that embryonic stem cells cultured in the lab develop genetic mutations over time that are cancerous. The new development may mean embryonic stem cells may never be able to help patients suffering from various diseases.
Unless such cells can be kept fresh until use and thoroughly checked for problems, embryonic stem cells may never be used. However, the longer they are kept and they more they divide, the more errors in their genetic code appear, giving rise to cancer.
"These mutations we are finding are a much bigger problem," says Aravinda Chakravarti of the Johns Hopkins University in a report in the journal Nature Genetics.
Chakravarti and his colleagues examined embryonic stem cell lines created before August 2001, and eligible for federal funding under President Bush’s limits on using taxpayer funds to destroy human life.
They compared the original embryonic stem cells with those produced from those lines. Out of nine cell lines, eight developed one or more genetic changes commonly observed in human cancers, the Johns Hopkins team reports.
"This is not good news. It suggests that the biological properties of the cells before and after replicating could be different," says Chakravarti.
Transplanting such embryonic cells into a patient could cause more medical problems than they would be likely to solve, scientists said.
"[I]f it turns out these cells really do become unstable over time," he said, "then that would put limits on the practical life spans of the cells and their usefulness for therapeutic purposes."
The discovery is another bonus for adult stem cell research, touted as a more ethical and more effective alternative. Such cells come from non-controversial sources like umbilical cord blood and bone marrow rather than by destroying days-old unborn children. They have already produced treatments for dozens of diseases and conditions.