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Defending life
from conception to natural death


Centre for Life scientists claim embryo stem cell breakthrough

25 September 2006

Researchers based at Newcastle's Centre for Life have published research in the new edition of the scientific journal Stem Cells saying that they have successfully derived live stem cells from human embryos that were "effectively dead". Professor Miodrag Stojkovic, who spent some time working at the Centre for Life, said: "These were embryos which had stopped developing. They were deemed to be dead because they couldn't progress. We wanted to use these cells to show that they could produce embryonic stem cells. It gives us an additional source of stem cells to use in research and that is important because human embryos are very precious. Until now scientists would discard these cells but this gives us an additional source of stem cells. It could be said that this is a more ethical source of cells, but I prefer to think of it more as an additional source." Other scientists and pro-life groups have expressed scepticism about the supposed breakthrough. Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: "The pragmatic answer to this study is to say that it's totally irrelevant. He doesn't talk about dead embryos in the study but 'arrested' embryos. That's a whole new category and we need to define what that is." [The Journal, 25 September]

Depression before giving birth may be more common than post natal depression, according to research by a British babies' charity. A study commissioned by Tommy's found that depression in pregnancy affects 10-15% of women and that depression can peak at 32 weeks into pregnancy, possibly affecting the unborn child by a rise in stress hormones which can lead to low birth weight. Annette Briley, of Tommy's, who is a midwife at St Thomas' Hospital, south-east London, and heads the women's health research unit there, said that there was very little treatment available for ante-natal depression. [Telegraph, 25 September]

American scientists have claimed that embryonic stem cell implantations could end age-related blindness. Researchers from Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City published a study in the journal Cloning and Stem Cells showing how they had grown retinal pigment epithelium (RPE) from human embryonic stem cells and transplanted it into the eyes of rats. The treated rats then regained 70% of the visual capability of normal rats. The research team said that if further tests were successful, they would try it out on human patients in as little as two years. Dr Robert Lanza, one of the leaders of the research, said: "We have demonstrated that these human embryonic stem cell-derived cells can rescue visual function in animals that otherwise would have gone blind." [Telegraph, 25 September]

A leading advocate of stem cell research in Britain has been arrested in a police inquiry into people who lent the Labour party money in return for peerages. Sir Christopher Evans founded Merlin Biosciences, has set up a charity, UK Stem Cell Foundation, to fund research into embryonic and adult stem cells and was recently appointed to UK Stem Cell Initiative, a group which advises the government on stem cell research. He started giving Labour financial support in the 1990s and received an OBE in 1995 for services to biotechnology, followed by a knighthood in 2001. He has denied any impropriety regarding the recent loan of £1million. [Times, 21 September]

Research undertaken by the University of North Carolina suggests the levels of a specific hormone may affect foetal development and the probability of developing pre-eclampsia. The study suggests that low levels of the hormone adrenomedullin can impact upon the likelihood of the mother developing pre-eclampsia, which can cause the death of pregnant mothers. The experiments were conducted on mice, and the results showed that with low levels of the hormone, litter sizes were reduced and the spacing of the embryos in the uterus was abnormal, resulting in deformations and poor foetal growth. [Medical News Today, 20 September]

An Australian adult stem cell company has claimed success with treatment of patients suffering from cardiac problems. The small scale results, involving only 10 patients, show improvements of between 20% and 60%, using adult stem cells of the patients' own DNA. Professor Itescu, who was involved in the clinical trials said,"this degree of improvement in heart function in these very ill patients is very encouraging, and we look forward to completing the trial and reporting on the outcomes of all the patients in due course." [Medical News Today, 21 September]

A governmental study conducted in Spain has shown that the rates of abortion have risen. The rate has risen to 8.8 women per 1000 in 2003, from 5.5 in 1995 [United Press International, 20 September]

Illinois Supreme Court is to issue rules on the Parental Notification Law, meaning that it can soon be enforced. The law was passed in 1995 but the courts refused to issue any rules on appeals, which meant that in effect it could not be enforced. Two days ago the Supreme Court said that they would take up the case and have since issued the necessary rules. Pro-life activists in the state have been complaining that the current arrangements have turned Illinois into a haven for teenagers to avoid parental notification laws in their own states. [Chicago Sun Times, 20 September]

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