Advanced Cell Technology Inc. (ACT), a Worcester, Mass biotechnology company, is reporting in Nature that it has developed a technology to harvest human embryonic stem cells (hES cells) from frozen embryos, and these forever frozen embryos should maintain their developmental potential indefinitely:
“Until now, embryonic stem cell research has been synonymous with the destruction of human embryos,” stated Robert Lanza, M.D., Vice President of Research & Scientific Development at ACT, and the study’s senior author. “We have demonstrated, for the first time, that human embryonic stem cells can be generated without interfering with the embryo’s potential for life. Overnight culture of a single cell obtained through biopsy allows both PGD and the development of stem-cell lines without affecting the subsequent chances of having a child. To date, over 1,500 healthy children have been born following the use of PGD.”
Current technology derives hES cells from the inner cell mass of later-stage embryos known as blastocysts, destroying their potential for further development. ACT’s approach generates human embryonic stem cells from a single cell obtained from an 8-cell-stage embryo.
To create hES cell lines, the researchers used single cells obtained from unused embryos produced by IVF for clinical purposes. Nineteen stem-cell outgrowths and two stable hES cell lines were obtained. These cell lines were genetically normal and retained their potential to form all of the cells in the human body, including nerve, liver, blood, vascular, and retinal cells that could potentially be used to treat a range of human diseases.
“One of the major ethical objections of those who oppose the generation of human embryonic stems cells is that all techniques, until now, have resulted in the destruction of the embryo,” stated Ronald Green, Ph.D., Director of Dartmouth College’s Ethics Institute and Chairman of ACT’s Ethics Advisory Board. “This technique overcomes this hurdle and has the potential to play a critical role in the advancement of regenerative medicine. It also appears to be a way out of the current political impasse in this country and elsewhere.”
“Our policy will be to work together with the scientific community to make new lines widely available for research,” stated William M. Caldwell IV, CEO of ACT. “Our ability to create human embryonic cell lines and therapies without harming the embryo should assuage the ethical concerns of many Americans. We look forward to potentially working with partners to produce significant medical benefit through the use of this technique.”