GE Healthcare has formed a biotech partnership to develop products based on human embryonic stem cells in hopes that their use will replace lab rats in drug development and toxic drug tests.
The British-based medical research subsidiary of General Electric, GE Healthcare on June 30 announced a multi-year alliance with Geron Corporation to have Geron provide GE scientists with an undisclosed amount of human embryonic stem cells.
According to CNSNews.com, GE Healthcare has said it hopes testing which uses human embryonic cells will spare lab rats from potentially toxic drug evaluations.
"This could replace, to a large extent, animal trials," said Konstantin Fiedler, general manager of cell technologies at GE Healthcare. “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.”
A Geron/GE news release said that cells derived from human embryos have “similar attributes to their counterparts in the body” and can be used to predict “many pharmacological characteristics of a drug candidate.”
The cells were reportedly derived from embryonic stem cell lines listed on the National Institutes of Health Human Pluripotent Stem Cell Registry. The registry contains stem-cell lines approved under President George W. Bush’s policies established in 2001 to allow and regulate funding of embryonic stem cell research.
The Geron and GE Healthcare said they 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," they remarked.
Dr. David Prentice, a senior fellow for life science at the Family Research Council, told CNSNews.com that embryos must be killed before stem cells can be derived from them. He said research on them is “ethically irresponsible and scientifically unworthy, as well as useless for patients.”
Prentice also questioned whether drug testing on animals would really be replaced, as many drugs are metabolized in the liver and other parts of the body.
“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,” he told CNSNews.com.