Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. together with colleagues has announced the development of five human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines without the destruction of embryos. These new results have the potential to end the ethical debate surrounding the use of embryos to derive stem cells. In fact, the NIH report to the President refers to this technology as one of the viable alternatives to the destruction of embryos.
The new method will be published today in the journal Cell Stem Cells, published by Cell Press. The peer-reviewed technique was initially carried out by ACT scientists under the direction of Robert Lanza, M.D., and then independently replicated by scientists on the West Coast.
Single cells were removed from the embryos using a technique similar to preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). The biopsied embryos continued to develop normally and were then frozen.
The cells that were removed were cultured utilizing a proprietary methodology that recreates the optimal developmental environment, which substantially improved the efficiency of deriving stem cells to rates comparable to using the traditional approach of deriving stem cells from the inner cell mass of a whole blastocyst stage embryo.
The stem cells were genetically normal and differentiated into cell types of all three germ layers of the body, including blood cells, neurons, heart cells, cartilage, and other cell types of potentially therapeutic significance.
“This is a working technology that exists here and now,” said Robert Lanza, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer at Advanced Cell Technology and senior author of the paper.
“It could be used to increase the number of stem cell lines available to federal researchers immediately. We could send these cells out to researchers tomorrow. 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. Too many needless deaths continue to occur while this research is being held up. I hope the President will act now and approve these stem cell lines quickly,” Lanza added.
The paper also addresses several other important issues. First, the stem cells were derived without culturing multiple cells from each embryo together, and at efficiency levels similar to that reported for conventional stem cell derivation techniques using blastocysts. Second, it addresses ethical objections that the derivation system required co-culture with hESCs from other embryos that were destroyed.
The current study demonstrates that hESC co-culture is not an essential part of the derivation procedure. The stem cell lines generated in the present study appear to have the same characteristics as other hESC lines, including expression of the same markers of pluripotency, self-renewing capacity, genetic stability, and ability to differentiate into derivatives of all three germ layers of the body.