Scientists Find Success in Alternative Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Oct 17, 2005   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
October 17, 2005

Washington, DC ( — Scientists have made progress in attempting to obtain embryonic stem cells without destroying human life — the part of the process pro-life advocates object. However, one leading pro-life spokesman says the new process still triggers ethical concerns.

Using mice, researchers apply a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, or PGD, which is normally used to screen unborn children for genetic disorders.

Typically, scientists wait until the unborn baby is five days old and then destroy the child for the embryonic stem cells. Under the new process, researchers take just a single cell from two day-old mouse embryos. The cells act like embryonic stem cells and the mouse embryo was not killed in the process.

Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch and Alexander Meissner of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology detailed their findings in an article in the latest issue of Nature, a scientific publication.

Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, a leading bioethics analyst, said the research still has ethical issues.

He said PGD is unethical because it could injure or kill the unborn child if unsuccessful and because it is mostly an effort "to select out genetically imperfect embryos," he told the Associated Press.

Even the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research, which backs the unproven research, admitted that the new techniques "will not sit well with many who oppose embryonic stem cell research."

In a second process, the MI researchers used cloning to create a mouse embryo that would not have the ability to be implanted in the womb and survive. Researchers took embryonic stem cells form the embryo, which is then destroyed.

Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford University, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, has championed this technique, called altered nuclear transfer, as an embryonic stem cell research alternative.

Doerflinger said that technique appears to create an embryo — a unique human life — that should not be destroyed.