New research may have found ways around some of the ethical quandaries plaguing stem cell research in the United States.
Two studies detail innovative ways to derive embryonic stem cell lines without destroying viable embryos; the findings were hailed as promising but preliminary.
"Approaches to get embryonic stem cells from methods in which the embryo is not harmed are clearly very important and a significant advance," said Paul Sanberg, director of the Center for Aging and Brain Repair at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa.
"These are still early studies that have to be shown in human cells, but they are going in an interesting direction," Sanberg said. "We still need to do research in embryonic stem cells in order to understand basic biology, and having embryonic stem cells in which we don't have ethnical issues associated with it is important, especially in the United States," reports Forbes.
According to Boston Globe, one team, working at the Worcester-based biotech company Advanced Cell Technology, created embryonic stem cells by removing a single cell from a growing embryo, without seeming to harm the embryo. Another team, based at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, tried another approach that used genetic manipulations. The two teams worked separately, but reports of their work, describing experiments done with mice, were both published yesterday by the prestigious journal Nature.
A number of specialists said that neither of the techniques, in their current forms, represented a way of making stem cells that would be widely accepted because they still faced technical hurdles and ethical questions.
Still, the new research, which was published online to make it available faster, is politically charged. The US Senate is considering legislation, already passed by the House of Representatives, that would overturn some of the Bush administration's restrictions on funding stem cell research. Supporters of the legislation fear that talk of potential alternatives all of which are at least years away could sap support for the measure.
"If you are supporting these alternatives at the expense of the proposal to expand access to the stem cells that are available today, you are essentially voting to delay the research," said Dr. George Q. Daley, a stem cell scientist at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital in Boston.