Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Stem Cells: Biopsy on Frozen Embryos

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Stem Cells: Biopsy on Frozen Embryos

Article excerpt

To the Editor: Kathy Hudson ("Embryo Biopsy for Stem Cells: Trading Old Problems for New Ones," September-October 2006) is correct to point out that the technique for producing stem cells reported recently by scientists at Advanced Cell Technology does not eliminate the ethical questions regarding embryonic stem cell research. But she also fails to acknowledge a way that this technique could answer some important objections to this research, as well as some concerns that she raises.

The ACT paper reports the creation of stem cell lines from single cells ("blastomeres") obtained from eight-cell embryos (grown for two to three days after fertilization). We know that when a single blastomere is removed from an eight-cell embryo, the residual seven-cell embryo is viable, since such embryos are produced during preimplantation genetic diagnosis after in vitro fertilization. These embryos regularly develop normally when implanted in the uterus.

Hudson points out, however, that removing a cell from the embryo carries significant risks, since this manipulation may disrupt developing intercellular networks, decrease the chance of implantation in the uterus, and even directly destroy the embryo. Because of these risks, she concludes that it would be "almost certainly a nonstarter to ask couples going through IVF to contribute a cell for stem cell research." Similar concerns about risks to the embryo or a resulting child from this technique have been voiced by Leon Kass, former chairman of President Bush's Council on Bioethics.

But these concerns about possible harms overlook a more attractive source of embryos and way of using them. First, the embryo should be obtained not from a couple undergoing IVF currently, but instead (with the appropriate informed consent) from the hundreds of thousands of embryos frozen after an IVF cycle and no longer desired for a future pregnancy. Second, after one of these embryos is defrosted, grown to the eight-cell stage, and a blastomere is removed, the embryo should be simply refrozen (at the blastocyst stage, approximately day five). …

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