Scientists Make Patient-Specific Stem Cells Without Cloning

Bioethics   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Dec 12, 2012   |   12:02PM   |   Washington, DC

The Scientist is calling a service called MyCell offered by Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) one of the top ten innovations of 2012. With MyCell Services, a researcher can send in a blood sample of a patient and get back a cell type of choice. MyCell Services uses induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology to reprogram the patient’s cell back to a pluripotent state and from there CDI can differentiate those iPS cells into the cell type the researchers requests. From The Scientist:

Now, Cellular Dynamics International (CDI) is utilizing that technology to offer, via the company’s MyCell Services, iPSC lines from any patient of interest, as well as differentiated cell lines derived from the iPSCs.

“[Customers] don’t have to be stem-cell biologists to leverage this technology,” says Chris Parker, CDI’s chief commercial officer. “They can simply be interested in a disease state and get the human cells they need to answer appropriate questions.”

…The iPSC lines are derived from CD34 cells in blood samples sent in by customers, and returned as 96-well plates of a cell type of interest. To create an iPSC line from a patient sample costs $15,000 and takes about 6 months, Parker says, but once the iPSC lines are established, it takes just 1 to 2 months to order more specific cell types derived from that line.

Now I know there is much controversy in the pro-life community over iPSC technology because, among other things, researchers have used a cell line in the reprogramming process that came from an abortion in the 1970s. Unfortunately this cell line is a common tool among cell biologists and is used in all kinds of research, not just iPSCs. I could not find any information on which cell line MyCell Services uses to grow their viruses for the reprogramming services they offer. If they have used a cell line from an abortion, even if it was performed decades ago, that does morally taint this innovation.

That being said, I want to point out what MyCell provides has been the holy grail of stem cell science ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned back in 1996: patient-specific cells of whatever type was needed.

Before iPSC technology, the way scientists tried to accomplish this goal was to collect hundreds of eggs from women, putting their health and fertility at risk, then clone human embryos with those eggs, then destroy those little lives trying to harvest the “patient-specific” stem cells inside. (Or they cloned human embryos with cow, rabbit or mouse eggs. Or they intentionally created embryos with a devastating genetic condition called triploidy.) Researchers insisted that this ethical disaster called “therapeutic cloning” was the BEST and ONLY way to get patient-specific cells of their choice.

iPSC technology has changed all of that. No eggs, no cloning, no animal-human hybrids, no human lives created, manipulated and destroyed. Researchers can now get patient-specific stem cells without these particular ethical issues.



Of course, if researchers in any kind of research are using cell lines of illicit origin, then the work is not totally free from moral problems. But this is a huge improvement over the “therapeutic cloning” vision of the mass cloning and destruction of embryos that stem cell researchers had less than a decade ago.

If we can encourage companies and researchers to totally stop using cell line of illicit origin (if they are using such tools) then we can truly rejoice over such an awesome innovation.