GE Plans to Use Human Embryonic Stem Cells as Lab Rats

By Eliza Strickland | July 2, 2009 11:43 am

cell cultures 2Although ethical debates about the use of embryonic stem cells continue to rage, stem cell technology is beginning to make its way into the medical marketplace. Yesterday, General Electric division GE Healthcare announced that it’s teaming up with the biotechnology company Geron in a venture that will use embryonic stem cells to develop products that could give drug developers an early warning of whether new medicines are toxic [Reuters].

The agreement marks the first time that a company of GE’s stature and size has announced a business venture involving the controversial field of embryonic stem cells. That could reflect a more tolerant climate for the technology in the wake of the Obama administration’s recent relaxation of restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research [The Wall Street Journal]. Supporters of embryonic stem cell research say the work will lead to a host of treatments for cancer and other diseases, while opponents believe that the destruction of any human embryo is unacceptable.

GE says the two companies will work with stem cell lines that have been used in medical research since former president George W. Bush set strict research rules in 2001. The companies plan to coax the embryonic stem cells, which can develop into any kind of human tissue, into becoming specialized cells that pharmaceutical companies can test new drugs on. Says GE Healthcare researcher Konstantin Fiedler: “This could replace, to a large extent, animal trials…. Once you have human cells and you can get them in a standardized way, like you get right now your lab rats in a standardized way, you can actually do those experiments on those cells” [Reuters]. The companies plan to first grow the stem cells into batches of heart and liver cells to test drugs that affect those vital organs.

The biotech company Geron has emerged as one of the leading companies seeking to commercialize stem cell technology. Earlier this year, Geron received the FDA’s first approval for human trials involving embryonic stem cells – testing the safety of stem cell treatment for spinal cord injuries – which are scheduled to begin this summer [San Francisco Chronicle].

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Christina Viering

    I would love to see what can be done to help pts with spinal cord injuries.

  • http://clubneko.net Nick

    The destruction of human embryos is abhorrent. The only proper destruction of a human is done mentally and physically at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, or purely physically on the battlefield in an invaded middle eastern country.

    In all seriousness, I look forward to stem cell therapies letting me replace my ailing body mechanics as they deteriorate. I’m in it for the Long Now.

  • William

    At least animal rights activists can rest a bit easier now.

  • Mongo L

    I am sure PETA will be onboard, they already advocate aborting mentally challenged babies because they can’t be productive to society. Maybe now those babies can hope to live up to what PETA deems a productive life!

  • Wendell

    Opponents think (not just believe) that “the destruction of any human embryo is unacceptable” because it necessarily means the destruction of innocent human life. The suffering of the sick is terrible, and doctors and scientists rightly work to alleviate or prevent that suffering. However, the ends do not justify the means. It is always wrong to intentionally destroy human life–even to save other human lives.

    (n.b. this principle can and must be applied to war and imprisonment. That’s an important, but separate, discussion.)

    There are other kinds of stem cells that avoid these problems. Adult stem cells can be harvested without destroying any embryos. According to NIH, “Research on adult stem cells has generated a great deal of excitement. Scientists have found adult stem cells in many more tissues [e.g. heart, liver] than they once thought possible. This finding has led researchers and clinicians to ask whether adult stem cells could be used for transplants….If the differentiation of adult stem cells can be controlled in the laboratory, these cells may become the basis of transplantation-based therapies” (http://stemcells.nih.gov/info/basics/basics4.asp). That sounds exactly like what GE wants.

  • Uncle Fish

    Ther is too much misguided moralism today. If you can use other forms of birth control without trouble or worry, abortion should be seen as an (unfortunate) possibility. Why do some act as if there is a gun going off in the bedroom when two people do what’s natural?

    Stem cells could and should lead to advances that will help millions of people. Would Wendell
    take Parkinsons over a cure for it?

    I think that if you are on death row, found guilty by your peers, it is irresponsible to have a state sanctioned execution, when you can better mankind by harvesting organs and tissues first.

  • Wendell

    Apologies–I left out the word “innocent.” It is always wrong to intentionally kill innocent people.

    Uncle Fish, it’s not clear how your 1st & 3rd points apply to the discussion of embryonic stem cell research. As for Parkinson’s, the decision isn’t between having a cure or not. It’s about whether to follow one particular road to a cure. Since that one road necessarily involves killing an innocent person, why not explore the other available roads (e.g. adult stem cell research)?

  • shaking head

    @ Uncle fish…. i agree with Wendell

  • AppalachianMatt

    Has either side ever actually sat down and tried to come up with a solution to get past the moral debate? I was injured in Iraq and I have to live everyday in pain. If this could help me function in a more normal sense then I am all for it.

  • I’mABeliever

    Wendell is absolutely on target. And the Roman Catholic Church (regardless of your faith or belief) provides clear and consistent teaching — “seamless garment” — respect for all live from conception to natural death. And agree with Uncle Fish that the death penalty should not be acceptable or permitted. Also, regarding Uncle Fish comment about contraception: It really should not be not be used “without trouble or worry.” A touchy issue and definitely a minority opinion and practice, but again it should not be viewed as “normal” or acceptable. From Catechism of Catholic Church regarding abortion — Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law:
    You shall not kill the embryo by abortion and shall not cause the newborn to perish.
    God, the Lord of life, has entrusted to men the noble mission of safeguarding life, and men must carry it out in a manner worthy of themselves. Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception: abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.

  • Tim Wright

    Hi,

    This is abhorrent! And Matt I am grateful for your service in Iraq, but this is not the way forward. I have type 2 diabetes and would not take any medicine developed using embryo’s. The use of adult stem is much more effective. Please read:

    http://www.frc.org/insight/adult-stem-cell-success-stories-2008-update-july-december

    and this where a DR on Oprah tell Michael J. Fox that Embryonic Stem Cells won’t cure him.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDFJOzu9SyM&eurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.jillstanek.com%2Farchives%2F2009%2F04%2Fdr_to_oprah_mic.html&feature=player_embedded

    Peace

    Tim

  • Mel M

    I agree that it’s abhorrent. These so called scientists are repeatedly ignoring adult stem cells, the ones that really work. Destructive child-killing research has shown promise for absolutely nothing, and no more money should be wasted on it!!!!

  • Cat

    Hurray for G.E. I hope others follow their lead. I can’t understand how people think it is justifiable to torture and kill non-human sentient beings (who obviously feel pain and fear) and at the same time think it is abhorent to use what amounts to just a bunch of cells with absolutely no feeling to help alleviate human suffering.
    “Child-killing”! What “Child killing”? Don’t you know what stem cells are? Ok. They are “potential” humans. Potential only. They are merely cells Nothing more at the time. Furthermore, (and this is important) these stem cells would have been destroyed, thrown out with medical waste. Do you think it is better to dump these cells with the garbage than to use them to alleviate human suffering? These cells were not created for the purpose of research.

  • JustAnotherPerson

    Embryotic stem cells are cells that are unwanted by an individual, who wants to be a part of something that could cure millions. The cells are not taken, but rather donated, or given. Nobody is being forced to abort a fetus, and also, it has not developed into anything. It’s just another growing cell. I agree with Cat 100 percent.
    These are blank cells that can form into anything the body needs, and they are a-sexual and never ending. If a person with Alzhiemers has blank cells added, then the blank cells will realize what cells are needed, replicate, and replace sick or damaged cells.
    Yes there are other ways to obtain stem cells, but why toss things away? That’s wasteful!

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