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Embryo Watch – Part II…or just what is it about scientific research that it is so fast-moving? August 27, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Bioethics, Frozen embryos, Medical Issues, Uncategorized.
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Not three weeks have gone by and already science has caught up with and overtaken the current embryoresearch.org campaign – referred to earlier on the blog.

Those of you interested in such matters will recall that I pointed to a serious error of fact in the campaign leaflet where:

It also states that “scientists strip stem cells from human embryos. This always kills the developing baby”. Unfortunately that’s not exactly true either. A fairly widely available technique called PGD, or Preimplantation genetic diagnosis, is used in IVF where a number of cells are removed from an embryo and tested for various hereditary genetic diseases. The embryo, can then be implanted inside the womb and can lead to successful pregnancy. This technology allows a fix which the leaflet doesn’t mention.

Now, I keep my finger on the pulse of ART therapies for one reason and another, but even I was surprised by the following report in the Guardian [here] which underlined and extended that point where new research precisely allows the removal of a cell from an embryo, a process which – as with PGD – is within the statistical margin of error indicating any negative effects regarding the further implantation of the embryo.

To quote:

Scientists led by Robert Lanza at Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts created the stem cells by adapting a technique called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), which is already used in fertility clinics to check IVF embryos for genetic defects.

In PGD, a single cell is plucked from an embryo when it is a three-day-old ball of only eight cells. The cell is then tested for defects such as cystic fibrosis, and if it is healthy, the embryo is implanted. More than 2,000 babies have been born worldwide following PGD.

Dr Lanza’s group showed that the single cell removed from an embryo can be grown into many cells overnight, and some of those can then be turned into embryonic stem cells. In tests, the team took 91 clumps of cells from 16 embryos and created two sets of embryonic stem cells, according to Nature today.

So immediately this removes the central charge of the embryoresearch.org campaign. To put it simply in the same words as embryoresearch.org “scientists strip stem cells from human embryos (Actually they don’t, they remove a cell – not a stem cell – from the embryo). This does not kill the developing baby”.

There remain problems with the technique. It remains to be seen will it be widely used, particularly in view of the likely removal of the Presidential veto on state funding in the US on embryo research after the next US Presidential Election (all the leading contenders have indicated they will remove it). And it’s also arguable, as I’ve noted before, that picking this ground on which to make a stand in some respects cedes ground where none might have been necessary. Yet, it makes it clear that embryoresearch.org must completely reconsider the central thrust of their public pronouncements to date.
There are currently posters around the country advertising a meeting in Wynns Hotel, Dublin, next week organised by embryoresearch.org. I’m almost certain that embryoresearch.org will be delighted by this news which vindicates their approach to protecting life from conception onwards, while also potentially opening up new medical techniques for children and adults suffering a broad spectrum of chronic and fatal conditions, and will take that opportunity to retract their previous leaflets and wind up the campaign.

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