NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - For the first time US researchers have derived pluripotent stem cells from a primate's unfertilized ovum--raising the possibility that human stem cells could be created without destroying viable human embryos.
Dr. Michael D. West of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts and associates parthenogenetically activated eggs from crab-eating macaques, they report in the February 1st issue of Science. They then immunosurgically isolated inner cell masses from eggs that had developed to the blastocyst stage. A week later, they observed cell proliferation in one of the cell lines.
Karyotyping revealed the appropriate number of chromosomes, while sequence repeat testing of the DNA showed the cells to be autologous with somatic cells from donor animals. The cells continued to be propagated in an undifferentiated state for 10 months.
By altering culture conditions, Dr. West's team induced the cells' differentiation into astrocytes and neurons, spontaneously beating cells that resemble cardiomyocytes, smooth muscle cells, adipocytes, and beating ciliated epithelium.
Teratomas were produced by injecting cells into the peritoneal cavity of SCID mice. After 15 weeks, derivatives of all three germ layers were present.
It is possible that, in the future, advances in parthenogenesis and in obtaining stem cells from adult tissue could "wipe out" the debate over embryonic stem cell research, one bioethics specialist told Reuters Health.
But it would be "irresponsible" to use findings like the current ones "as a political football before we know what the real deal is with this science," said Dr. Glenn McGee of the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics in Philadelphia.
According to co-investigator Dr. Kathleen A. Grant of Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, North Carolina, her team's success will allow them to "start looking at the fundamental questions about the use of stem cells." These include finding out whether the mature cells that arose from stem cells in this study will be rejected or accepted once they are transplanted back into the egg donor.
And although this research focused on coaxing an ovum to produce stem cells, the investigators are also attempting to induce spermatozoa to become stem cells.
© 2002 Reuters Ltd