On January 11th, The Washington Post ran an article about a new method of harvesting stem cells from embryos. Researchers at Advanced Cell Technologies (ACT) in Massachusetts claimed that their technique of removing only one stem cell from an eight-celled embryo should qualify them for federal funds.

The technique used by researchers is the same used by infertility clinics when conducting genetic testing on embryos. An ACT spokesman argued that many embryos biopsied in clinics are then used to achieve full-term pregnancies and this is evidence that the technique used by the researchers follows federal policy of doing “no harm.” Studies have not been done on the survival rate of embryos biopsied by infertility clinics. However, one study that was cited was published in July– it showed that parents who have had embryos biopsied before implantation have a 30 percent lower chance of giving birth. One source noted that studies that have been done have had flaws.

In addition to using infertility clinic success rates as evidence that the technique does “no harm,” researchers allowed the surviving embryos to continue to grow for five days. Eighty-four percent survived.  

The technique has drawbacks for researchers. Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center at Johns Hopkins University commented to the Post, “Embryo biopsy is tricky and requires extraordinarily good hands and technical skills. And even in the best hands, embryos are sometimes lost.”

Surviving embryos were frozen following experiments.


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