In the wake of the Obama administration’s relaxation of embryonic stem cell research guidelines, General Electric’s medical research division, GE Healthcare, has decided to use the embryonic stem cells to test toxicity levels. Biotech company Geron will be providing an undisclosed amount of the cells over a multi-year alliance, according to an article by CNSNews.
Konstantin Fiedler, general manager of cell technologies at GE Healthcare, stated that the cells derived from embryonic stem cells could replace lab rats. “Once you have human cells and you can get them in a standardized way, like you get right now, your lab rats in a standardized way, you can actually do those experiments on those cells,” he added. According to a statement by GE Healthcare, “GE will not be associated with the primary harvest of human embryo-derived cells or tissues. We acknowledge the considerable debate and take very seriously the ethical and societal issues associated with research using stem cells derived from embryonic or fetal tissue. We conduct our research in an ethically and scientifically responsible manner.”
However, as Dr. David Prentice of the Family Research Council explains, “Treating just cells in culture will give you some idea of toxicity or perhaps effectiveness on a certain cell type, but will not actually work for the whole organ, or the entire system, or the organism. So this is not going to replace all animal testing.” Dr. Prentice points out that using the embryonic stem cells is in its very nature “ethically irresponsible and scientifically unworthy” and adds that embryos must be killed before stem cells can be derived from them for research purposes.