February 22, 2024


A small US biotech’s claim in the journal Nature that it had found a way to obtain “ethical” embryonic stem cells is looking more and more like a shabby attempt to grab headlines. Two American newspapers dug further into details of the embarrassing incident.

An article by Dr Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, had claimed that a cell biopsied from an eight-cell human embryo could develop into embryonic stem cell lines without harming the embryo itself. However, it transpired that none of the embryos had actually survived his experiment. Nature, whose press release declared that the embryos had been left “intact”, was forced to issue two “clarifications” and to post supplementary data on its website. The main conclusions of Lanza’s paper are not disputed, but Nature may edit his abstract for greater clarity.

Lanza explained the confusion to the Philadelphia Inquirer by arguing that it was well-known from IVF procedures that 8-celled embryos could survive a biopsy. It was unnecessary to ensure that his embryos did as well. The Inquirer dismissed this as “dissembling”.

The Chicago Tribune also investigated how the media could have been misled. It dug up a press release from Advanced Cell Technology which said that it had been “using an approach that does not harm embryos”. The bioethicist adviser to ACT, Dr Ronald Green, of Dartmouth University, explained the apparent inconsistency with the facts. “The approach does not harm embryos,” he told the Tribune. “The experiment did.”