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THE EMBRYO DILEMMA

In support of science

Hoping to aid research, donors meet with piles of paperwork -- and takers can be elusive.

October 06, 2008|Shari Roan | Times Staff Writer

Moreover, many research organizations -- including California state-funded research groups -- will not accept frozen embryos in which an egg donor was compensated in any way, which is often the case with anonymous donors.

Protecting gamete donors' rights is critical, says Nanette Elster, director of the Health Law Institute at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.

"Someone may have donated with the idea that he or she is donating to help a woman build a family," she says. "But if that is not what the family is going to use it for, maybe they wouldn't get consent. The donors are individuals with concerns and a stake in the process."

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Many uses for embryos

Researchers hope that as the process becomes more familiar, more couples will donate. Evolving research suggests that stem cell researchers may have a need for many embryos.

For example, some studies show that individual stem cell lines have a preference for the way they develop, Charo notes. "Some differentiate more easily into heart tissue. Some seem to differentiate more easily into neurological tissue." Having a broad range of stem cells will help develop lines that can be used more efficiently.

Moreover, some people may have an immune reaction to tissues made with specific stem cells, she says. Thus it may be necessary to have a large variety of stem cell lines to get a variety of immunological matches. Disease-specific stem cell lines are also needed, researchers say. For example, cell lines may be created from an embryo that carries the gene for a specific disease or a high risk of developing that disease.

Although stem cells may one day be derived by other methods, those derived from embryos are, for now, the gold standard in research, says Dr. Marie Csete, chief scientific officer for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

"There is absolutely no need to take every frozen embryo and make a stem cell line," she says. "But the science is changing a lot. We need diverse human stem cell lines to really understand the biology of a stem cell at a baseline."

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shari.roan@latimes.com

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