Jason Gertzen, a columnist for the Kansas City Star, recently included quotes from Insoo Hyun in a column on stem cells. Insoo has provided material for geneforum from time to time, and I was happy to see his name in press again. Hyun is still at Case Western Reserve University and is an active participant in the International Society for Stem Cell Research. As a bioethicist, he has written about some of the difficulties of doing embryonic stem cell research, including the problems of acquiring donor eggs.
The article references work by a group at Harvard, following efforts to obtain embryonic stem cells without taking them from a developing blastocyst:
Kevin Eggan, a Harvard University scientist supported by millions of dollars from the Stowers Medical Institute, reported ... success with a technique that eventually could be important in producing stem-cell therapies. Eggan utilized fertilized eggs in a way previously thought impossible.
He had hoped to work with unfertilized eggs that women would donate for research. Researchers spent more than $75,000 on advertising over a year and fielded hundreds of calls from women potentially interested, but ultimately were unable to find a donor.
One of the problems was a Massachusetts prohibition against paying donors for eggs used in research. “The procedure is just so lengthy and significantly difficult,” Eggan said. “No one was willing to go through it without some compensation.
These new approaches are intriguing, said Hyun, and need to be pursued if we are to get the full benefits promised by stem cell research. President Bush, earlier this summer, continued his opposition to traditional approaches for producing embryonic stem cells, favoring alternatives he claimed would be successful and would defuse concerns about "killing embryos". Bush's 2001 ban on stem cell research limits government funding to stem cell lines produced a number of years ago, not allowing funding for research with newer--and probably more effective--cell lines.
It’s not playing out exactly as the president described, said Insoo Hyun. Barbara Atkinson, executive vice chancellor of the University of Kansas Medical Center, agrees, saying that some might hope for alternative methods for obtaining stem cells, but it’s far too soon to declare one approach as superior. “Whichever way comes up with the first cures is the one that is going to win out,” Atkinson said. “But people really don’t know what is going to work yet.”