Stem cells developed in city lab; Technique used leaves embryos undamaged.


Byline: Lisa Eckelbecker WORCESTER - Scientists working at Advanced Cell Technology Inc.'s Worcester laboratories say they have developed two new lines of human embryonic stem cells by plucking single cells from early-stage embryos, a technique that leaves the embryos undamaged and may resolve some ethical opposition to the field. The process, disclosed today in the British journal Nature, is the same technique used to test an embryo for genetic problems. By leaving an embryo intact and ready for parents to implant, Advanced Cell officials said, the technique might satisfy certain stem cell opponents and open the field to more federally backed research. "The main objection to embryonic stem cell research is, it deprives embryos of the chance to develop," said Dr. Robert P. Lanza, Advanced Cell's vice president of medical and scientific development and an author of the Nature paper. "We can now derive these stem cell lines without destroying the embryo and destroying its potential for life." Some observers, however, said interfering with embryos for non-therapeutic purposes remains wrong. The technique is used in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to determine which embryos to terminate, and scientists would do better to seek other ways to create stem cells, said Edward J. Furton, ethicist and director of publications for the National Catholic Bioethics Center. "If you can produce an entity, a biological artifact that is not an embryo and we can be certain of that, and it produces embryonic stem cells, that would be a solution," Mr. Furton said. Stem cells are the body's master cells, capable of duplicating indefinitely and differentiating into various tissues. Embryonic stem cells are the body's earliest stem cells, found inside an embryo, or blastocyst, that is four to five days old. Some researchers believe it might someday be possible to guide embryonic stem cells to generate tissues that could be transplanted into humans to treat diabetes, Parkinson's disease and other disorders. But waiting until the early embryo has stem cells, and pulling them out, destroys the embryo, a step that some critics oppose. In the United States, researchers can obtain federal funds to work on 21 embryonic stem cell lines that were developed before August 2001. But many researchers consider those lines weak, tainted and snared in patent issues. President Bush last month used the first and only veto of his tenure to kill legislation that would have loosened federal funding...

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