CALIFORNIA ROCKS! yay. i voted for the legislation too lol in 2004
Thursday, August 24
Stem-cell advance whets debate
HOPES RAISED FOR `ETHICAL' SOLUTION
By Steve Johnson
A Bay Area company's groundbreaking technique for growing human stem cells without destroying an embryo has triggered hope the procedure may resolve the ethical and legal dilemmas that have severely limited stem-cell research in this country.
But some skeptics think the new technique won't end the debate on the ethics of using embryo cells for research, and the White House issued a statement that was non-committal.
Advanced Cell Technology, an Alameda biotech company, disclosed Wednesday in the journal Nature that it has developed a way to grow stem-cell lines from a single cell extracted from a human embryo.
``This is an important breakthrough,'' if other scientists confirm the method works without harming embryos, said Arnold Kriegstein, who directs the Institute for Regeneration Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco.
White House officials released a statement in response to Advanced Cell Technology's announcement that said, ``It is encouraging to see scientists making serious efforts to move away from research that involves the destruction of embryos.'' But it added, ``Any use of human embryos for research purposes raises serious ethical concerns. This technique does not resolve all those concerns.''
Many scientists believe embryonic stem cells one day may yield treatments for a wide range of human ailments, from Parkinson's disease to cancer to diabetes.
Because the cells can grow into any type of tissue in the body, researchers hope to use them to generate new brain cells, veins, bones, even entire organs. They also foresee using the cells to create genetically uniform tissues that could be used in studies to develop better drugs.
Researchers typically obtain human embryonic stem cells from embryos that are due to be discarded by fertility clinics. But many people abhor harvesting such cells for laboratory studies. As a result, President Bush has limited federal financing of such research to a few government approved stem-cell lines that are self-replicating colonies.
While some stem-cell research advocates have attempted to change the White House policy, others have been trying to develop new ways to grow human embryonic stem cells without running afoul of the federal restrictions. Some experts say the technique developed by Advanced Cell Technology, which borrows heavily from a routine genetic screening technique already used by fertility clinics, seems promising.
No harm to embryo
Under the procedure, a human egg and sperm are combined in a laboratory dish and grown for two to three days, producing a cluster of about eight to 10 cells. One of the cells is removed and allowed to divide overnight. Then, while one of the divided cells is used for the genetic test, the other is grown into stem-cell lines for research.
The remaining cluster of seven to nine cells is grown for a few more days and placed in the woman's uterus to become a fetus.
Since the cell used to make the stem cells would have been removed from the embryonic cluster anyway for the genetic tests, ``this should satisfy the objections'' to doing human embryonic stem-cell studies, said Robert Lanza, the Nature article's primary author.
After all, he added, ``it's not rational at that point to deny people cures when there is no harm going to the embryo.''
But not everyone is convinced.
A panel of bioethicists appointed by Bush to consider alternative ways to make stem cells raised concerns in a report last year when it examined the concept used by Advanced Cell Technology.
Although the technique hadn't produced human embryonic stem cells when the report was written, the panel noted that it seemed safe in theory because at least 1,000 babies had been born without noticeable harm after having had a cell removed for genetic testing. Nonetheless, it said children born through such a procedure would have to be studied for years to be sure the technique poses no health risk.
A matter of principle
In addition, the panel concluded, ``Subjecting otherwise healthy embryos to biopsy procedures in order to derive stem cells seems ethically troubling.''
That echoed the objections from some critics who said even if Advanced Cell Technology's approach seems safe for embryos, it shouldn't be tried.
``It's a matter of principle,'' said Edward Furton, of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia. ``You don't take an innocent human being and subject it to risk if there is no advantage to the human being.''
Christopher Thomas Scott, who directs Stanford University's Center for Biomedical Ethics Program in Stem Cells and Society, said more studies also are needed to prove the procedure makes stem cells comparable to those produced in current methods.
No matter how promising the procedure turns out to be for making stem cells, it still might not pass muster with the Bush administration. That's because Bush's policy bars federal financing for any stem-cell lines derived from a human embryo after Aug. 9, 2001, regardless of the method.
Given the politics surrounding stem cells, however, it's hard to predict how the federal government will react to the Advanced Cell Technology procedure, said Larry Goldstein, a stem-cell expert at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine.
``If you ask, does this have any chance of solving the federal government quagmire about this issue, who the heck knows?'' Goldstein said. ``It depends on how some lawyer decides to determine all this.''
Advanced Cell Technology announced in February that it was moving its headquarters from Massachusetts to Alameda because of California's stem-cell institute, which voters approved in 2004 to provide $3 billion in funding not hindered by the federal ban.
News of Advanced Cell Technology's discovery sent the company's stock price up to $1.83 at the close of trading Wednesday, an increase of more than 357 percent.