Biotech Firms Want Govt $ for Dubious Embryonic Stem Cell Research Method

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Sep 13, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Biotech Firms Want Govt $ for Dubious Embryonic Stem Cell Research Method Email this article
Printer friendly page

by Steven Ertelt Editor
September 13
, 2006

Washington, DC ( — Two leading biotech firms want the federal government to pay to distribute embryonic stem cells obtained through a dubious new method they claim does not destroy human life. The method was proven false in previous weeks after a media explosion claimed it solved ethics problems.

California-based Advanced Cell Technology and WiCell Research Institute, a Wisconsin company, plan to distribute new embryonic stem cell lines they say can be obtained without destroying human life.

The cell lines would be produced with the Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) technique ACT outlined in a recent paper in the scientific journal Nature.

However, Nature was forced to revise press statements about the article that made it appear the technique did not destroy unborn children.

Instead, all 16 of the human embryos involved in the research were destroyed and the technique remains a hypothetical.

Still, the companies say they can distribute morally acceptable embryonic stem cells and want the federal government to pay for it. They say the new technique overcomes President Bush’s objections.

"Provided that the federal government is willing to fund future human embryonic stem cell research where it can be demonstrated that the embryo was not harmed, we will do our part in scaling up many new lines," William Caldwell, ACT’s CEO said in a statement.

Should Uncle Sam step in and provide money, Caldwell said his firm "will make the derivation of new lines a company priority."

WiCell already has a relationship with the federal government as it is licensed to distribute 13 of the 21 embryonic stem cell lines that are currently eligible for federal funding.

Elizabeth Donley, WiCell’s executive director, said in a news release that her firm is "hopeful that future human embryonic stem cells created by this new process can be approved for federal funding."

But the new process is fraudulent, according to some scientists and pro-life advocates.

Art Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania, one of the top embryonic stem cell research advocates in the United States, called the claims "all hype."

"The science involved is not going to lead to any sort of ethical breakthrough," Caplan wrote in an op-ed after its announcement.

Top Stanford University researcher Hank Greely agreed.

"From the scientific perspective, never believe anything until it’s replicated several times," he said. "It will be interesting and important to see if these cells turn out to be the same kind of cells with the same kind of promise as [embryonic] stem cells derived [traditionally]."

Meanwhile, bioethics professor C. Ben Mitchell of Trinity International University says the claim is just “ethical smoke and mirrors" and says its study does not really show what it claims to show.

“There are huge unresolved ethical problems here,” says Mitchell, in a statement obtained.

He says PGD has ethical problems of its own and that the long-term effects of removing a cell or cells from an early embryo are unknown.