While there are many false dawns in science, This article reports on a technique that could have real promise for medical research.
Scientists working under Professor Miodrag Stojkovic at Newcastle University have achieved a breakthrough in the field of stem cell research by taking cells from dead embryos and turning them into living tissue.
The technique could soon be used to create treatments for patients suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, the researchers say. The breakthrough has been hailed by many scientists and ethical experts because it could circumvent opposition to stem cell experiments because live embryos will no longer need to be used.
In a paper, published last week online on the website of the journal Stem Cells, Stojkovic reveals he and his colleagues took 13 embryos, created by IVF. All 13 had stopped developing a few days after conception. The team then waited 24 hours to check that the embryos were no longer dividing before beginning their experiments. 'These were all deemed to be arrested embryos,' said Stojkovic. 'In other words, they were dead but they had the capacity to develop any different type of cell you could think of, including kidney cells, liver cells, and skin cells.'
George Daley, of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, said the paper's approach raised scientific concerns. 'If there was something wrong with the embryo that made it arrest, isn't there something wrong with these cells? We don't know.' Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, a Catholic campaign group. 'We do not have objections to the use of donated tissue and organs in other areas of medicine. There is the critical question of how you know when an embryo is dead or not.'
However, Stojkovic's work was given strong backing by Donald Landry, at the Columbia University Medical Center in New York: 'regardless of how you feel about personhood for embryos, if the embryo is dead, then the issue of personhood is resolved, This then reduces the ethics of human embryonic stem cell generation to the ethics of, say, organ donation. So now you're really saying, "Can we take live cells from dead embryos the way we take live organs from dead patients?