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New stem cell technique would avoid killing embryos

Aug. 23, 2006
Courtesy Nature
and World Science staff

By plucking single cells from human embryos, researchers say they have managed to cultivate embryonic stem cells through a technique that could leave embryos intact.

Embryonic stem cells are “master” cells that can develop into many different cell types. Researchers are interested in harvesting them, as they can be grown into replacement cells useful in treating diseases. But in the past, this has involved killing embryos—a highly controversial problem.

The findings, to be published online this week in the research journal Nature, could allow scientists to pursue such studies without destroying embryos, biologists said.

Embryonic stem cells typically come from four- or five-day old embryos that form a hollow microscopic ball of about 150 cells, called the blastocyst.

Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass. and colleagues reported that they could instead remove one cell from an earlier-stage embryo and cultivate it into a colony of stem cells. This procedure is similar to that used during in vitro fertilization to remove a cell for genetic tests, the scientists explained.

Using 16 human embryos, the team obtained two cell lineages that, they argue, behave exactly like conventional embryonic stem cell lines. The technique could thus allow such cell lines to be grown from cells routinely removed for genetic tests during in vitro fertilization, they said.

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