Human Exceptionalism

ACT’s ES Cell Experiment Gets Smellier and Smellier

ACT received an infusion of more than $10 million only days after its “big (non) breakthrough” generated screaming headlines in the world’s papers.

A cynic might say, mission accomplished. And now there’s more news to back up the suspicion that the experiment was more snow job than actual scientific achievement. Pardon me, but this will take a little high science: Please don’t let your eyes glaze over.

ACT strongly implied that it had removed one blastomere (a type of early embryonic cell) and obtained ES cells without destroying the embryo. As discussed extensively here at Secondhand Smoke, that purported breakthrough was flat-out false. ACT’s scientists had actually destroyed 16 embryos and removed 4-7 blastomeres from each, placing them in a medium in which they were not in direct contact, but in such a manner that the cells might have been able to communicate with each other.

A failed experiment, similar to that conducted by ACT, appears to demonstrate that this potential communication may have been key to the derivation of two ESC lines–casting doubt on whether ES cells will be able to derived from just one blastomere as ACT claims. In the experiment, scientists tried to create ES cells using two blastomeres. But when the two were removed from being able to communicate with several others, the experiment didn’t take. According to the science paper published about the effort: “The results showed that it might not be possible to derive hESC lines directly from paired blastomeres. A minimum number of blastomeres in close contact with one another may be required to successfully generate an hESC line.”

Of course, if that is so about two blastomeres, it is more than true about one. If other efforts show similar results–and it must be said that we don’t know whether they will–ACT’s experiment may have been worth not very much at all. Well, other than generating bounteous free publicity and obtaining millions in venture capital.

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