March 5, 2024

First Australian human embryonic stem cells created

A scientist at Sydney IVF celebrating the success of its stem cell tests. Photo: Peter Rae, Sydney Morning Herald

A Sydney IVF clinic has created Australia’s first embryonic stem cell line from a left-over IVF embryo donated by a couple interested in scientific research. The line was developed by Sydney IVF about a month it obtained a research licence.

The medical director of Sydney IVF, Professor Robert Jansen, says that the stem cells will be used for research. He predicts that they will eventually lead to therapies for degenerative diseases. “There are several hurdles but there’s a small chance it will be inside five years.” He also hopes to be able to create stem cell lines from genetically defective embryos to test drugs. “The potential of stem cell research is boundless,” he says.

Rather than pass on the $500,000 spent on developing the stem cell line to its customers, Sydney IVF said that it plans to charge a commercial fee for other researchers to use its cell lines. A day later, however, a Melbourne competitor, Stem Cell Sciences, vowed that it would treat the stem cell lines it is developing with another licence as “a resource for mankind” and make them freely available to researchers around the world.

New South Wales Premier Bob Carr said that Sydney IVF’s achievement was heartening and that embryonic stem cell research should be encouraged. Taking a completely different line on the controversial issue was Tasmania’s Senator Brian Harradine, who said that human embryos were being treated like laboratory rats. “This research destroys human embryos for the commercial benefit of Sydney IVF,” he said