Human Exceptionalism

ACT Misses Out on the $–For Now

Advanced Cell Technology is always on the lookout for opportunities to garner money, either from private investors (sometimes after hyped stories of its research “successes” somehow “make it” into the papers), or from government grants. ACT’s most recent escapade involved its refuted contention that it created embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos. The story made headlines and generated tremendous controversy because company researchers had destroyed each embryo it researched upon–a matter that was covered extensively here at SHS.) In subsequent unpublished research, ACT now claims to have actually created ES cell lines without destroying embryos, which was also covered here at SHS.

ACT quickly applied for NIH money to do research on obtaining ES cell lines from early embryos, but has hit a different roadblock. The Dickey Amendment, passed by every Congress and signed by both Presidents Clinton and Bush since 1996, does not permit funding for research that “harms” embryos. This language was also used in Bush’s recent executive order calling for the NIH to develop regulations for funding “alternatives” to conventional ESCR.

The question is thus, whether taking one cell from an 8-cell embryo harms it, even if it doesn’t destroy it. (We know this can be done because the technique is used in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and such embryos have been successfully implanted and gestated to birth.)

In any event, that question has put ACT’s grant on hold. From the Washington Post story:

The legal standard of allowable harm to an embryo is spelled out in 1995 congressional language and is reiterated in Bush’s June 2007 executive order. It bans federal funding of research that subjects an embryo to more than “minimal” risk, although greater risk is allowed if the research is anticipated to benefit the embryo.

For now, Lanza has suggested limiting his technique to embryos that are already due to be biopsied at a fertility clinic. The plucked cell could divide for a day, providing enough cells for both the genetic testing and to start a line of stem cells. That way the embryo would not be subjected to any new or additional risk.

My question is why is a delayed $240,000 grant to ACT such a big story?

Why do the media always seem to jump through ACT’s press release hoops and continually quote people closely associated with the company despite their–the media–having been, shall we say, misled by the company’s PR machine several times before? I’ll say this for the company: ACT may or may not be a good biotech company, but it is a publicity hound par excellence.

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