American scientists have developed a new method for obtaining embryonic stem cells, which allows the life of the embryo to be preserved. They hope that the work with colonies of such stem cells can be funded from federal funds.
Under current law, research on embryonic stem cells is not eligible for federal funding if a human embryo was destroyed in the process.
According to new research, published in the journal Nature, embryonic stem cells can be obtained from a human embryo at an early stage of its development in a manner similar to biopsy. Then, with the help of special stimulation, the cells can be prompted to divide repeatedly, resulting in a whole colony.
Research on embryonic stem cells is considered one of the most promising areas of modern medicine. Many specialized cells of various tissues of the human body can be obtained from them, and they are less susceptible to the effect of rejection.
It is believed that the use of stem cells will make it possible to effectively treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and other serious physiological disorders, as well as facilitate organ transplants.
“I hope this will break the political stalemate and allow scientists to move forward,” said research team leader Robert Lanza.
Embryonic stem cell research will almost certainly be a central issue in the US Senate and House elections in early November. Some scientists hope that President Bush, one of the main opponents of such studies in cases where they lead to the death of the embryo, will now drop his objections.
In July, Bush imposed a presidential veto, the first since his tenure in the White House, on a bill that would allow, in some cases, federal funding for such research.
However, White House spokesman Emily Lorimore made it clear that objections from the president have not yet been overcome, although she spoke positively about scientists’ attempts to avoid the destruction of embryos.
“Any use of human embryos for research purposes creates serious moral problems,” Lorimore said. “This method does not dispel these concerns.”
The new method, used in embryos that are two days old, is similar to the analysis that many pregnant women undergo for the early detection of Down syndrome in the fetus. This test is considered unethical by some, as it usually destroys the embryo if diagnosed positively.
Dr. James Batty, head of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Stem Cell Research Commission, said it remains unclear how compatible the new method is with current legislation, as retrieving the cell carries a known risk to the fetus anyway.
President Bush authorized federal funding for research conducted on stem cell colonies established prior to August 9, 2001. However, scientists almost unanimously believe that these colonies are not enough for effective research.
Research with private funds is not affected by this law.
Objections to the new method were immediately raised by Republicans in Congress, who opposed the law vetoed by Bush. They argue that this method creates a twin of an existing fetus, which is immediately killed.
Democrats and other proponents of embryonic stem cell research accuse the president and his supporters of hampering scientific progress and putting thousands of lives at stake.
Apparently, this dispute will only escalate until the November elections.