Friday, June 29, 2007

Pluripotent Stem Cells from Unfertilized Human Eggs

Research collaborators from Maryland and Moscow have produced six pluripotent stem cell lines from human eggs that were never fertilized (full-text available). There has been speculation that it might be possible to get pluripotent stem cells using parthenogenesis, but this is the first time it has actually been accomplished. Their protocol is complicated, but involves a chemical activation of the eggs to cause the single cell to start dividing. Others have used electricity to start the cleaving process. Since parthanodes cannot survive beyond a few days and never grow into living human beings, developing plurpotent stem cells from them may satisfy ethical concerns for those who object to destroying human embryos. Unfortunately, the Rev. Tad Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia disagreed. "My view is that if these grow as organized embryos for the first few days and then arrest, they may just be very short-lived human beings," he said. "One is very possibly dealing with a defective human being. And at a minimum, the benefit of the doubt should be given here, and these embryos should not be created for the purposes of destroying them." (Associated Press article) I personally think we can make a distinction between embryos created through the union of sperm and egg that we know have some potential for human life and parthanodes that have none.

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