Cloning Company Claims to Have Made Ethical Embryonic Stem Cells

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 10, 2008   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
January 10,

Washington, DC ( — A cloning company that claimed last year to have created a new process of obtaining embryonic stem cells without destroying human embryos said Thursday that it has grown five batches of the cells. However, a leading bioethicist says the claims that the process is moral or ethical doesn’t square with the facts.

Advanced Cell Technology first revealed the process in an August 2006 paper in Nature, which described removing one cell from an embryo to create the stem cells without taking human life.

The process is much different from the cell reprogramming technique pro-life advocates have hailed as an ethical alternative to embryonic stem cell research.

However, the company was later exposed for misleading reporters in press releases about the paper by claiming that none of the embryos were destroyed when none of them survived the process.

The Senate eventually held a hearing on the dubious claims, where a top ACT official was berated by lawmakers who back the grisly research. The company later threatened and others with lawsuits after ACT was exposed.

Today, ACT said its preimplantation genetic diagnosis process had created more embryonic stem cells from the cells taken from the unborn children.

"This is a working technology that exists here and now," Robert Lanza, ACT’s scientific director, told Reuters in an email. "It could be used to increase the number of stem cell lines available to federal researchers immediately."

However, Dr. David Prentice of the Family Research Council told that ACT’s process "still does not meet the ethical threshhold" because "there is significant risk of harm to the embryo by this technique."

Prentice, a former biology professor at Indiana State University, said Lanza’s company continues to mislead the media with claims that the process doesn’t harm unborn children.

"Not all of Lanza’s embryos survived, and those that did were not followed to birth, but only for a few days and then they were frozen," he said. "[Several] recent studies, including in the New England Journal of Medicine, have indicated that there is indeed risk of harm to the embryo."

This has led the American Society of Reproductive Medicine to recommend against the use of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Lanza told Reuters that his supposed success in creating ethical embryonic stem cells should motivate President Bush to open up more taxpayer funding.

"I hope the president will act now and approve these stem cell lines quickly," he said. "If the White House approves this new methodology, researchers could effectively double or triple the number of stem cell lines available within a few months."

"Too many needless deaths continue to occur while this research is being held up," Lanza claimed.

But Prentice told, "As far as the funding question, no federal funds are given for in vitro fertilization or PGD, because of the risk of harm to the embryo; Lanza’s technique also would not qualify."

"The assertion that needless deaths continue to occur because this research is being held up is patently false," Prentice added.

"Honest embryonic stem cell research authorities have taken pains to point out that any treatments are decades away at best, and that is not because of ethical constraints but because of real problems with embryonic stem cells forming tumors, failing to make and sustain specialized cell types, and transplant rejection," he explained.