So Have they or Haven’t They Created a New Stem Cell Method that Does Not Destroy Embryos?

Several news outlets ran a story this week claiming that scientists had developed a method of using stem cells from embryos without harming the embryos themselves. Reportedly, they could take one of the eight cells from an embryo without inhibiting its development. The single cell could then be used to create colonies of stem cell research that could be used in research or remedies. This sounded like a win-win way around the most fundamental objection to stem cell research – that the research was killing human beings in order to help human beings.

But it does not appear to be that simple. The Washington Post ran a story discussing some of the questions that have been raised about the study, including the fact that the scientists in the study intentionally killed the embryos with which they were working supposedly to show they could do this without killing embryos. But the WP reports that while questions had been raised, “basic facts of the report remain unchallenged.”

The Vatican was not happy with the new study, claiming that it does not address one of its core concerns about stem-cell research – that it necessarily utilizes in-vitro fertilization procedures. A spokesman for the Vatican also noted that the one stem cell removed from the embryo could theoretically grow into a full-fledged human. I am unsure about the science of that last objection, but it would seem to be an insurmountable objection to any form of stem cell research no matter its effect – or lack thereof – on the original source of cells.

An article in the Weekly Standard is critical of the fundamental claim about the survey – that the study showed you could use the single-cell from a young embryo to create a line of stem cells. Not so, according to a consultant for the Discovery Institute’s Center for Bioethics and Culture. The scientists did not create lines of stem cells from single cells, but from a number of cells removed. The biggest claim to fame of the study remains unproven, though it may be a step to the desired destination.

As usual, read for yourself the relevant articles.


BK said…
This is fascinating, if true. Certainly, there are strong indications that the pluripotent stem cells (the type that are found in the embryo) may be available both from human testes and from mice (as I discussed here:

If it is true that the embryos themselves can still give up the necessary cells without killing the embryo, I think that the majority of the objection goes away. I still think that there's an issue about in-vitro fertilization, but that isn't as big of deal in my mind.

Good articles, thanks.
You need to read Stand to Reason's blog posts on this subject.

All of the embryos used in the study were in fact destroyed. Even if the claim were true, ethicist Robert George points out that this technique amounts to experimenting on human beings against their will. Take a read.
nsfl said…
If you want a quick scoop on this issue, see here.
Layman said…

I think your article gets it right any more than George Will. The issue isn't just whether a stem cell can be removed without harming the embryo (and not just w/o killing it, but w/o any long term effects), but whether that stem cell can be used to create succesful research lines/colonies. The study didn't accomplish that by its own admission.

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