Scientists Create Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Without Using Animal Cells

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 3, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Scientists Create Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Without Using Animal Cells

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by Maria Vitale Gallagher Staff Writer
January 3, 2006

Madison, WI ( — A research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has developed two new embryonic stem cell lines which are the first of their type to be grown without using animal protein.

This means that the embryonic stem cell lines are free of animal contamination, which the researchers claim could lead to embryonic stem cell transplants into human beings if they can overcome other issues like immune syndrome rejection.

Growing living cells outside the body usually requires a mix of nutrients, hormones, and blood serum. The method often relies on animal cells to keep the cells alive in the culture.

James Thomson, a University of Wisconsin anatomy professor, said, “This is the first time it has been possible for us to derive new cell lines in completely defined conditions in (a) medium that completely lacks animal products.”

In an article published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, researcher Tenneille Ludwig said, “This work helps us clear some of the major hurdles for using these cells therapeutically.”

Nevertheless, the new stem cell lines both developed abnormal chromosomes, indicating that the system is far from perfect.

The problems mirror those found throughout embryonic stem cell research. To date, no successful therapies have been developed using embryonic stem cells. In addition, a number of bioethicists object to such research on ethical grounds, since it involves the killing of living human embryos.

In contrast, adult stem cell research, which does not involve killing human embryos, has been highly successful in developing treatments for disease. Adult stem cells can be derived from umbilical cord blood, fat, and other sources.

The Wisconsin development comes as the entire embryonic stem cell research industry has been rocked by scandal. Leading researcher Hwang Woo-suk recently resigned his university post in South Korea after an investigation found that he had faked stem cell lines.

The U.S. Senate this year is expected to debate the issue of overturning President Bush’s limits on using taxpayer funds to pay for embryonic stem cell research.