Thursday, June 29, 2006


Showing Some Cojones on Stem Cell Research

Science & Theology News is reporting that German researchers have found cells in the testes of mice that can behave like embryonic stem cells. Such stem cells give rise to virtually all tissue in the body and may offer treatment for conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries. Their use is controversial in some quarters because harvesting the cells involves the destruction of human embryos in some stage of development under presently available technology.
Dr. Gerd Hasenfuss, director of the department of cardiology and pneumology at the Georg-August University of Goettingen in Germany, announced the discovery that certain mouse cells closely mimicked the behavior of embryonic stem cells. If human testicular cells can be found that will do the same, "then we have resolved the ethical problem with human embryonic stem cells," Dr. Hasenfuss said.
In unrelated research, it has also been reported that mouse stem cells have been coaxed into producing both eggs and sperm, raising the possibility, if the work can be applied to humans, that men might be able to produce eggs, and women sperm.
Cells cultured from a male mouse embryo were grown into hollow balls called "embryoid bodies," which resemble early embryos. After two weeks, both eggs and sperm were produced.
Cells on the outside of the embryoid bodies turned into mature, elongated sperm, whereas cells on the inside formed follicles, which released eggs. The eggs developed into embryo-like structures called blastocysts that then 'hatched', a process that normally occurs just before an embryo implants into the uterus wall.
Irina Kerkis from the Roger Abdelmassih Clinic in Sao Paolo, Brazil said, according to the article, that:
[T]he embryos probably formed by a process known as parthenogenesis, in which an unfertilized egg can develop into an embryo-like structure. In mammals, such 'parthenotes' never develop past implantation. But because mature sperm were present in the same dish, Kerkis claims it's possible they could have fertilized the eggs. Although she admits it is unlikely, she is currently carrying out tests to investigate whether it occurred.
The article in Nature notes that eggs produced in this manner in the lab might be used to produce embryonic stem-cell lines for further research. The possibility of parthenogenesis raises interesting issues because much of the religious opposition to stem cell research is at least nominally based on the claim that a human being comes into existence at the "moment of conception." Parthenogenesis, in dispensing with conception, would put that rationale to the test.
Squirming can be forecast.
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