More doubts raised about embryonic stem cell project

The claim that new embryonic stem cell lines can be created by extracting a single cell from eight- to 10-cell embryos without harming the embryo continues to draw skepticism. Last week researchers at Advanced Cell Technology conceded that all the embryos used in their research project were destroyed but insisted that the embryos could have survived if researchers had allowed them to grow. Now, outside observers are also questioning the company's conclusions that they could successfully extract a cell and grow a new line from it without being forced to harm the embryo. The doubts center on ACT's decision to culture the cell along with others extracted from the same embryo. That could have allowed the cells to share proteins necessary for their survival. ACT responds that they did successfully culture a single cell and believes it can culture several cells from different embryos together. Other scientists say the data simply isn't sufficient to prove what ACT has been claiming. Politically, none of that may matter. The Bush Administration has made it clear that they aren't willing to open the federal funding tap on any process that manipulates an embryo to create a new embryonic stem cell line, whether or not the embryo is destroyed.

- here's the Wall Street Journal article on ACT (sub. req.)

PLUS: Researchers at Michigan State, meanwhile, say that they have identified genes in human eggs that have no known function. The research opens up a line of inquiry to determine if certain genes can be used to stem cells without harming embryos, and opening up a new source of embryonic stem cell lines. Report

ALSO: Researchers from the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) have shown that a single gene involved in embryonic development is responsible for two seemingly contradictory activities--maintaining stem cells after the embryo has implanted in the mother's uterus and later providing cues to direct their differentiation in a coordinated fashion when the time is ripe. Release

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