Lanza: THIS TIME we REALLY Did It
Last year, Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, claimed to have derived human embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos. That report turned out to be, shall we say, exaggerated. In fact, ACT's researchers had destroyed all the embryos they worked on.
Now, Lanza has announced that they really, really did do it. An article published in the on-line ScienceNOW Daily News (subscription required), reports that Lanza told a stem cell conference in Australia that the researchers at ACT removed one cell from an embryo, kept the embryo in close proximity to the cell, which stimulated the removed cell to continue to divide as a stem cell line, and then returned the embryo "safely to the freezer."
Whenever ACT makes a big announcement of this kind, it is always prudent to be skeptical. But given the bright red faces caused by its previous exaggerated claims, I think we can probably assume that Lanza and his team did accomplish the feat. How practical it would be is another matter.
But this is the gist of the story--as it always seems to be whenever ACT makes a big announcement:
Lanza is now waiting on the findings of a legal review within NIH to determine whether the technique will get around the current federal funding ban on stem cell research. Lanza has also submitted a grant proposal to test his cell lines alongside two other types of stem cells that are also considered "ethically acceptable." Among other things, the work would compare the ability of the cells to give rise to different tissues or tumors.Yes. It is always about the money.
By the way, I assume SHSers caught the reporter's (what I assume to be an) inadvertent error: There is no "federal funding ban on stem cell research." Indeed, the NIH puts out about $40 million per year on human ESCR. What Bush does not permit is the Feds to fund research on ES cell lines created after August 9, 2001.
Back to ACT and its desire for grant money: Since, the Bush decision was based on the government not funding embryo destruction--either explicitly or in anticipation of future federal grants--ACT might well qualify for an NIH grant, assuming, of course, that Lanza did what he said. But merely having created a stem cell line would not be enough. The application would otherwise have to be deemed worthy of funding. And there could still be other ethical issues to consider since the President's Council on Bioethics looked with disfavor on this approach.
Oh well: Time will tell. In any event, it is fascinating how creative scientists have been in finding alternatives to destructive embryonic stem cell research--thanks to President Bush. Ain't it amazing what the power of money will do?