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First UK Stem Cell Line Established

August 12, 2003
By Richard Woodman
Reuters Health

Scientists said on Wednesday they had created the UK's first human embryonic stem cell line.

The team, at King's College London, said the new line would be deposited in the Medical Research Council's 2.6 million stem cell bank, which was launched last year for the use of researchers around the world.

The researchers said they obtained three stem cell lines from 58 embryos. Two cell lines perished but the remaining one had now been growing for many months and was well characterised.

"We are very excited about this development," said Dr. Stephen Minger, one of the lead scientists, in a statement accompanying the findings, which are published in Reproductive BioMedicine Online.

"Human embryonic stem cells are found in the earliest stages of development and are capable of giving rise to all the different types of cell in the body. This means their possible therapeutic uses are almost endless and could help in the fight against diseases ranging from diabetes to Parkinson's."

Dr. Minger told Reuters Health the researchers were particularly interested in research aimed at generating new cells for transplantation in these diseases and possibly also for patients with cardiac disease.

Traditionally, stem cell lines have been created with great difficulty using cells from embryos surplus to IVF, which are often of poor quality. But in this case, high-quality embryos were donated by women undergoing pre-implantation genetic diagnosis because they were known to be at risk of passing on serious genetic disorders if they had children.

Only embryos unaffected by these disorders were transferred to the women. Cells from the remaining embryos, which were unsuitable for replacement, were used to generate the stem cell lines.

Professor Peter Braude, part of the stem cell team, said: "We are proud of the particular way that our lines have been generated. We believe that the derivation has been wholly ethical as the blastocysts used would otherwise have been discarded."

The Kings team was one of the first two labs in the UK to be granted a license by Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to generate human embryonic stem cells.

Simon Festing, Director of Public Dialogue at the Association of Medical Research Charities, said: "This is great news for all the families of people suffering from debilitating diseases like diabetes and Parkinson's. Whilst there is still a along way to go, this is a clear endorsement of the Government's policy to make the UK a world leader in stem cell research."

Reprod Biomed Online 2003.

Copyright © 2003, Reuters Ltd