Unethical Stem Cells?

Some of the 200 or so human embryonic stem cell lines approved for federal funding may have been derived from sperm or eggs of unconsenting donors.

Jef Akst
Jef Akst
Feb 8, 2013

WIKIMEDIA, NISSIM BENVENISTYSince a July 2009 order from President Barack Obama, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has approved nearly 200 new human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines for federal funding—a move that was touted as a boon for stem cell research. But according to a review of the newly approved hESC lines, they may not all be up to the NIH’s ethical standards, with some possibly being derived from sperm or egg donors who did not give proper consent for the use of their biological material in research, ScienceInsider reported.

The NIH guidelines that resulted from President Obama’s executive order state that to be approved for federal funding, hESC lines must be derived from embryos left over from fertility treatments and other medical procedures, and donated—with full consent—by couples who created them. But some such embryos were not created by the couples themselves, but by egg and...

Tracking down the gamete source for nearly 200 NIH-approved hESC lines, Rockefeller's Amy Wilkerson and Kathaliya Wongsatittham and bioethicist Josephine Johnston of The Hastings Center in Garrison, New York, found 49 lines for which consent could not be confirmed. (Fortunately, these do not include two of the most popular hESC lines, H1 and H9.) They published their results yesterday (February 7) in Cell Stem Cell.

Rockefeller’s hESC ethics committee has stated that it will not approve requests for research involving these questionable cell lines, and Wilkerson said that other university committees should be aware of their results. Furthermore, the onus should be on IVF clinics to get permission for research from the get go—the donation of gametes. “It shouldn't be as hard to get as it is,” Wilkerson told ScienceInsider.