Wednesday, August 30, 2006

More coverage of ACT's work: the good and the bad

One can find many variations of reporting on the ACT work. In the following, one unfavorable, one favorable.

From Australasian, article titled THE RISE AND FALL OF A STEM CELL ETHICAL FIX

The article started: History or hype? This was the question swirling about the widely publicised announcement by a Massachusetts company that it had mastered a technique for creating "ethical" embryonic stem cells which could break the logjam in America's stem cell politics. [IPBiz query to californiastemcellreport: what happened to the California connection here?]

The article included a negative quote: "A pitiful attempt to look morally acceptable, rather than do valuable science," sneered Glenn McGee, editor of the American Journal of Bioethics.

The article discussed media coverage: Although this seems unfair, there is no doubt that the episode shows how credulous the media -- even leading scientific journals -- can be about therapeutic cloning. Lanza's work represented a small technical advance, but it hardly passed muster as a "breakthrough". [IPBiz: the issue remains in the details of how the one extracted cell did grow in the two cases in which the one cell did grow. Of the media, Nature did have to alter its press release, so there is a science coverage issue here. Separately, be sure to see my Sept. 06 article on bad coverage by Science in its July 28 issue.]

Yes, the article did mention a past ACT problem: Furthermore, Advanced Cell Technology has a track record as a publicity hound. A listed company which is perpetually in the red, it burst onto the front page back in 2001 claiming that it had cloned a human embryo and initiated a stem cell line. Nothing came of that extraordinary wave of publicity, but it no doubt put ACT scientists in the rolodexes of journalists across the world. [IPBiz note: does someone remember the patent interference?]

In the following, "totally ignored" is perhaps too strong: Japanese scientists reported in another major journal, Cell, that they had reprogrammed an adult mouse cell and converted it into something closely resembling an embryonic stem cell. Scientists from the Harvard Stem Cell group grudgingly acknowledged in a commentary that it was a "significant step" "unencumbered by neither the logistical constraints nor the societal concerns presented by somatic cell nuclear transfer [ie, cloning]." If this success can be replicated with human cells, it might indeed transform America's stem cell politics.

Meanwhile, at the New York Daily News on August 30, 2006:

Well, thanks to a scientific breakthrough announced last week, it turns out that embryos can do almost the same thing: They can give up a single cell to science while still going on to become a viable fetus. That cell can be grown into the holy grail of research: a new embryonic stem-cell line, the kind that holds such scientific promise.


The new technique, developed by a company called Advanced Cell Technology, works this way: A tiny eight-cell "blastomere" [sic] is grown in a petri dish, as it would be for any in-vitro fertilization. At this superearly stage, one cell is removed. This does not kill the embryo the way the older method of harvesting stem cells did. [IPBiz note: the older method was not done on an eight cell blastocyst.]

That same single cell can, we now learn, be grown into two cells, with one used for testing and the other used to create a new stem-cell line. Thus you end up with three gifts: a viable embryo, a test to make sure the embryo is healthy and a new stem-cell line for science. [IPBiz: that's one theory of use. For this to be implemented in practice, the success of growth has to be increased.]


The fact is: This technique holds great promise and does not harm potential life. New York University's Dr. James Grifo, who pioneered preimplantation genetic diagnosis [PGD] here, estimates there are 10,000 babies alive today who all started life minus one cell.


Blogger Lawrence B. Ebert said...

The August 25 issue of Science has some coverage:

313 Science 1031 Scientists derive line from single embryo cell

The team then allowed the embryos to develop to the morula stage, at which the embryo contains 8 to 16 cells, also called blastomeres. They used a pipette to separate the blastomeres and then cultured each one separately to see whether it would grown into an hES cell line. More than half of the 91 blastomeres divided at least once, and 28 formed clumps that grew in culture.

The scientists transferred the clumps to cultures in which other hES cells, marked with green fluorescent protein, were already growing.

Federal law prohibits funding for work that "endangers" embryos. Because the PGD biopsy does carry some risk, it's not clear what will happen as to funding limitations

9:28 AM  

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