CIRM meetings to explain stem cell tech

March 17, 2009 8:06:11 PM PDT
The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine or C.I.R.M. is sponsoring a series of town hall meetings to help people learn more about stem cell technology. The first one is Wednesday night in San Francisco. Among the speakers is a Stanford researcher who's work not only involves embryonic stem cells, it's focused on embryos themselves.

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In her lab at Stanford University, Renee Reijo Pera studies the tiniest building blocks of human life, hoping to coax embryonic stem cells into becoming eggs and sperm and perhaps unlock the secrets of why some embryos develop into a healthy fetus and others don't.

"Ever since the birth of Louise Brown, the first baby born by IVF [in vitro fertilization] is that we don't really know good quality embryo from a poor quality embryo," says Reijo Pera.

She points out that nearly three quarters of the patients who undergo fertility treatment, do not become pregnant. That leads to some clinics to transfering multiple embryos, sometimes resulting in twins, triplets, or as in the recent highly-publicized case, octuplets.

"We hope someday we get to a situation where only one embryo is transferred or at most two embryos," says Reijo Pera.

While Reijo-Pera's work holds the promise of major breakthroughs, it also skirts on the edge of what some critics have called the manipulation of human reproduction.

Last month, a doctor in Southern California ignited a fresh debate by claiming that he'll soon offer parents the chance to choose their child's hair and eye color.

"The most important issues to address are birth defects and multiple embryo transfer, and I'm not a supporter of tinkering with other human traits," says Reijo Pera.

Reijo Pera believes the episode diverts attention from the true promise of stem cell research and the potential to eventually treat disorders like Down syndrome in the first days of life.

The work at Stanford is privately funded by grants from C.I.R.M., the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, which has allowed the lab, to create its own embryonic stem cell lines from embryos donated by families undergoing fertility treatment. Research at C.I.R.M. has been ongoing despite restrictions put in place by the Bush Administration eight years ago.

"We think that there a great opportunity to use human embryonic stem cells to understand human reproduction. And so our center at Stanford has really had a fundamental base in human embryology and human embryonic stem cells are an extension of that," says Reijo Pera.

Of course, many of those restrictions were just overturned by President Obama.

Wednesday night C.I.R.M. will hold the first in a series of town forums, to discuss the broader science of stem cells. This is also an opportunity for individuals to learn how C.I.R.M. is investing Proposition 71 funds to improve human health and about advances in stem cell science from some of the most distinguished researchers in the field.

Town Hall Meeting Information:
You can make a reservation by emailing:

San Francisco Town Forum
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
Location: Palace Hotel, 2 New Montgomery Street
San Francisco, CA
Time: 6:00 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.

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