New breakthrough in stem cell research

January 10, 2008 7:34:34 PM PST
An East Bay bio-tech company says it's made a breakthrough in the effort to develop stem cells without destroying embryos. The research is still in the preliminary stages, and not all scientists are embracing this new technique. This has the potential to end the ethical debate regarding the use of embryos to develop stem cells. The company is calling it a breakthrough, but most in the scientific community are taking a wait and see approach. They are using words like interesting and potentially important to describe this research. This is an embryo consisting of cells that will eventually generate human stem cells. Advanced Cell Technology in Alameda took one of these early cells without harming the embryo. "And the idea is that you have a little ball of cells in the embryo and that you are able to pluck one cell out and then take that particular cell and use that to generate human embryonic stem cell lines," said Geoff Sergeant from Advanced Cell Technology. The removed cell was grown in a lab dish, then a molecule was added. Through a microscope, a cluster of stem cells generated from that one cell. These findings were published in the Journal Cell Stem Cells. The significance of this technique is that, according to the company, the embryo was not destroyed. "The idea is then that the remaining cells in the embryo can go on to be grown out a bite and frozen down and stored so the embryo has not been destroyed in this process," said Sergeant. In 2001, President Bush decided scientists receiving federal support cannot use any stem cell lines. "If you destroy a human embryo you are destroying a human being," said USF professor of philosophy Raymond Dennehy, Ph.D. It's too premature to say whether the government is ready to pour federal dollars into this research of if the technology will be embraced by other stem cell researchers. Song Li is an associate professor of bioengineering at Cal. He believes more extensive research is needed. "Whether you could really preserve the embryo or whether the embryo develops normally as a regular embryo, is one issue to address," said Li. In other words, because that single cell was taken prematurely, scientists don't know if the cells it created will do the same things as embryo-derived stem cells. Alan Trounson is the president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine. "Whether we have cures is a totaling different question. Whether you could cure diabetes or Parkinson's I think that's a much bigger question and it might be a longer time frame," said Trounson. Also, this company was involved in a controversy last year after it announced a similar stem cell breakthrough, but it turned out the embryos did not actually survive the entire process. That's why some in the scientific world are not getting overly excited about this research.