Thursday, June 24, 2004
Australia's first human embryonic stem cells have been created by a Sydney company.
In April, the National Health and Medical Research Council granted the first licences allowing Sydney IVF and Melbourne IVF to use excess human embryos in research.
The New South Wales Minister for Science and Medical Research, Frank Sartor, says the development will allow research into Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injury, juvenile diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
He says the principle is to develop therapies to help regenerate cells in different organs of the body.
"This is a key area of research in medicine, that is, to be able to reproduce tissues in organs of the body," he said.
The medical director of Sydney IVF, Robert Jansen, says while mainstream uses are still a few years away, the team's breakthrough will lead the way for new research.
"They can be used by researchers for developing or learning more about how cells become other more specialised cells that might be used, for instance, to repopulate someone's pancreas if they have juvenile diabetes," he said.
"Possibly the spinal cord if there is a spinal cord accident."
There are an estimated 70,000 surplus embryos created through in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment, which scientists could access for stem cell research.
Professor Jansen, says the couple who donated the embryo used to develop the stem cells wants to aid scientific research.
Professor Jansen says the couple have already undergone fertility treatment.
"They have children of their own now of course and they were really wondering what they might do with their spare embryos - excess embryos," he said.
"With a bit of a science background they were really quite insistent that they be used for research and particularly, if possible, for stem cells."
The research has cost the centre half-a-million dollars.
Both the Sydney and Melbourne centres also plan to improve IVF success rates.
Right to Life New South Wales spokesman David Cotton says he is concerned the researchers have vested interests and are spreading false information and false hope.
"This is where I think our society is being thoroughly misled because that is a giant leap," he said.
"All that has happened, as I understand it, is that stem cells have been created for the first time, they have been obtained from an embryo.
"Now we already have stem cells, so the finding today is only new in
as much as the source."
Copyright © 2004, ABC News