16 October 2007
The UK media has widely reported on the disapproving reaction of scientists to the news that a private US company is to market a service to harvest and store stem cells from excess IVF embryos. Company StemLifeLine, which revealed the new service at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in the US this week, markets itself to parents with the slogan "Think of our service as an investment for the future". It offers parents having in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment the option to pay to store stem cells from embryos that are not implanted, which could potentially be used in the future to treat disease in their children.
However, stem cell scientists have condemned the service as exploitation, saying that the £8,500 charge is unfairly preying on the fears of parents, and saying that the claim that stem cell lines created "may one day" help create therapies for living children who prove to be good immunological matches for the tissue created from the embryonic siblings is not justified. UK stem cell expert Professor Stephen Minger of King's College London commented: "My worry is that this is a commercial service that is being promoted to companies when the science is really not there to justify it” (see BBC news).
This service goes a step further than current commercial stem-cell banking initiatives, which offer to store cord blood from the umbilicus of newborn babies as a potential source of immunologically identical stem cells, which could be used for some future treatments of that newborn. Such companies operate in the UK, although their services have been criticized (see previous news). The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates the use of embryos created by IVF, has reportedly said that a service using frozen embryos would be unlikely to gain approval in the UK, since licensing requires that the proposed application is both necessary and desirable. The UK already has a national stem cell bank maintained for research purposes, and a public cord blood bank.