Scientists derive stem cells from unfertilized primate egg

Clarksburg, Md.—A team of scientists led by Jose Cibelli, Ph.D., at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., have derived, for the first time, pluripotent stem cells by creating a primate parthenote. A parthenote is an unfertilized egg that has been activated to divide.

Parthenotes that are allowed to go through only a few cellular divisions may turn out to be a promising source of embryonic stem cells, which scientists believe may end up curing a large number of diseases. Because the technique does not involve fertilization, some opponents of embryonic research may find the use of parthenotes more ethically acceptable than the derivation of stem cells from other sources.

In addition to Dr. Cibelli, who is the lead author of a paper on the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the research team included Dr. Kent E. Vrana at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Michael D. West of Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., plus 10 others at research institutions throughout the country.

Dr. Cibelli, who serves on the Scientific Advisory Board of the Stem Cell Research Foundation (SCRF), notes that this is the first time that pluripotent stem cells (cells that can give rise to any cell type of the human body) have been culled from a monkey parthenote and been maintained in culture in their pluripotent state. The cells, taken from the egg of a female macaque named Buttercup, have maintained their pluripotent state in lab cultures for two years. But some of them have also been used to create heart, muscle, skin and dopamine-producing brain cells. Dr. Cibelli says the cells proliferate easily, can turn into many cell types and, so far, testing shows that they are normally functioning cells.

“This is an exciting development for stem cell research,” said Brian K. Regan, Ph.D., the president of SCRF. “If this technology carries over, and we are able to create stem cells from unfertilized human eggs, we may have a new source of pluripotent stem cells for the treatment of human disease.”

The scientists who created the monkey parthenote believe that the creation of human stem cells can definitely be accomplished using the same techniques they used with Buttercup’s eggs. However, considerably more testing needs to be done before the technique is applied in humans. The next step, according to Cibelli, will be to transplant some of Buttercup’s cells back into her and into other animals to determine what rejection issues may need to be addressed. Because of differences in genetic expression during even such a short time of cellular development, it is not a given that the cells will not be rejected even by the egg donor.

For more information on this study or on stem cell research in general, contact the Stem Cell Research Foundation at 1-877-842-3442. The SCRF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to funding research and promoting cures for an array of diseases and injuries through the use of stem cells.

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