Human Exceptionalism

ACT’s Robert Lanza Has Betrayed Science

This is a partial transcript of a podcast aired by Nature. It is an interview with Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology. (You can hear it for yourself, here.) In it, he clearly claims to have taken one cell from an embryo and derived ES cells without destroying the embryo–when of course all the embryos were destroyed and most of the cells used to create the stem cell lines.

This can no longer be interpreted as bad writing or the use of vague verbiage. This amounts to active misrepresentation of the result of an experiment–aimed at an audience made up primarily of scientists. Such dishonesty must never be forgotten:

First, to introduce the podcast, Lanza tells the listener what he claims to have accomplished (all italics are my emphasis):

Robert Lanza: What we have done, for the first time is to actually create human embryonic stem cells, without destroying the embryo itself.”

This is false, of course. During the interview, an earlier statement by Lanza is played that describes–I assume accurately–how the researcher’s team had previously derived mouse ES cells using one cell taken from an early embryo:

Robert Lanza: We have shown that you can generate embryonic stem cells, using a method that does not interfere with the developmental potential of the embryo, and we have actually done this in the mouse model. It will take up to a year, or possibly longer before we can repeat this in humans. Of course we won’t know for sure, until we do the experiments.”

Then, the interview pivots to the current human experimentation that made so much “news,” and Lanza clearly states that his team accomplished the same breakthrough in humans that they did previously in mice–when they absolutely did not:

Chris Smith: He collected single cells from early stage mouse embryos, and then used those cells to produce pools of stem cells, but most importantly the donor embryos weren’t harmed in the process, and the same trick could be used with cells collected from early human embryos, for the purposes of PGD, or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Well, that work has now been completed, and earlier this week Robert told me what he’s found.

Robert Lanza: We have shown that we can not only generate stem cells without destroying the embryo, but that the remaining embryo also has the potential to go on to create a healthy hatching blastocyst.

Chris Smith: How is that achieved, Robert?

Robert Lanza: Well, what we’re actually doing is removing a single cell from an eight-cell stage embryo, and then we actually culture that cell in the Petri dish, and are actually able, though various manipulations, to create stable embryonic stem cell lines.“…

Chris Smith: And do they appease President Bush’s objection to the fact that you’re destroying life, to create or further life, with traditional technology?

Robert Lanza: Well, as you know, the president objects to the fact that you would be sacrificing one life to save another, and in this instance there is no harm to the embryo that we’re biopsying.

As we all now know, this is pure balderdash, and seemingly an intentional and material misrepresentation of what the experiment accomplished. Shame on Robert Lanza.