Advanced Cell Makes Stem Cells Without Harming Embryo
By Rob Waters
Jan. 10 (Bloomberg) — Advanced Cell Technology Inc.
scientists say they perfected a method to create new lines of
stem cells from a human embryo that doesn’t harm the embryo and
may help overcome ethical concerns about the research.
The method involves extracting one or two cells from a human
embryo without destroying it. The embryo used in the experiment
develops normally and could be used to trigger a pregnancy, says
Robert Lanza, Advanced Cell’s chief scientific officer. He hopes
to persuade President George W. Bush to support the research with
federal funds, which are now restricted to prevent the
destruction of human embryos.
“This is a working technology that exists here and now,”
Lanza said in an e-mail. “It could be used to increase the
number of stem cell lines available to federal researchers
immediately. If the White House approves this new methodology,
researchers could effectively double or triple the number of stem
cell lines available within a few months.”
A National Institutes of Health official called the new
research “impressive,” adding that researchers would have to
prove that the process doesn’t damage the embryos.
Advanced Cell, based in Alameda, California, gained 10
cents, or 69 percent, to 25 cents in over-the-counter trading at
4 p.m. New York time. The stock fell 72 percent last year.
A similar cell-plucking technique is used in fertility
clinics to test embryos for birth defects before implanting them
in would-be mothers. When Advanced Cell scientists first
performed this feat last year, they didn’t allow the embryos to
continue developing and were criticized for being deceptive
because they claimed the process wouldn’t harm embryos.
The research was replicated by a second group of scientists
at the University of California, San Francisco, who co-wrote
today’s study, published in the Cell Press journal Stem Cell. The
researchers also introduced another new method, involving the way
the cells are cultured, that increases the efficiency of the
The technique was developed to overcome the stance of some
stem-cell research opponents, including President George W. Bush,
who say destroying an embryo in the process of extracting cells
is equal to taking a life.
The embryos used in the study “were frozen and remain
alive,” Lanza said. More than 80 percent of the embryos that had
cells removed were functionally normal, Lanza said, just as
thousands of healthy children have been born following the use of
the technique in fertility clinics.
“Dr. Lanza has made a very compelling argument as to why
stem cells aren’t destroyed, and he has made a very important and
interesting observation that allows investigators to increase the
efficiency of getting stem cell lines,” said Story Landis, head
of the NIH’s stem cell task force.
She noted that when fertility clinics use the cell-testing
method being emulated by the Advanced Cell technique, it appears
to lower the success rate of in vitro fertilization, or IVF.
Landis cited a recent study in the New England Journal of
Medicine that found that IVF without removing cells to test them
leads to live births 35 percent of the time, while implanting an
embryo after removing a cell for testing yielded a 24 percent
“So yes, the embryos look fine, and yes, you do get
pregnancies, but you don’t get as many,” Landis said in a
telephone interview today. “From a legalistic view you would
have to ask: How much harm is harm?”
Landis said Lanza and Advanced Cell should submit a
proposal, backed by evidence, to the NIH so scientific officials
could review it thoroughly.
To contact the reporter on this story:
Rob Waters in San Francisco at
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