Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Stem Cell Freeze Flap: Ethics, UC San Francisco, Stanford Involved


"Modern day frankenstein story," "undeniably creepy," "trying to improve the quality of life." Some of the comments on a story in the San Francisco Chronicle involving a firm that offers "to create 'personalized' stem cells from the spare embryos of fertility clinic clients."

The article Monday by Bernadette Tansey said the idea is to freeze the stem cells for possible later use – "insurance for the future" – in the event that medical breakthroughs could make use of them.

The company is StemLifeLine Inc. of San Carlos, which is located south of San Francisco. It charges as much as $7,000 to create and freeze the stem cells with storage costs of $350 currently. Additional fees of up to $2,000 could be charged.

Tansey said the firm's proposal has set off a "flash fire of protest" from both supporters and foes of stem cell research.

Forty-seven comments were filed by the public on the story(they can be read at the end of the Chronicle story). The wide range offers some insight into the magnitude of the public education challenges that stem cell research still faces. Particularly since the Chronicle audience presumably consists largely of stem cell supporters.

The story also reported that the firm's business has triggered something of a tussle involving folks from UC San Francisco and Stanford.

The head of StemLifeLine is Ana Krtolica(see photo), a former researcher at UC San Francisco. On the firm's advisory board is Susan Fisher, who heads the UC San Francisco stem cell program. Olga Genbacev, a member of the firm's board, is a scientist in Fisher's lab. Tansey also reported that "the company's staff and boards include present and former research collaborators of Fisher's."

One of the folks from Stanford arrayed against the firm's proposal was David Magnus, director of that university's Center for Biomedical Ethics. He told Tansey,

"These companies are essentially taking advantage of people's ignorance and fears to make a buck,"

Also commenting negatively from Stanford were Rene Reijo Pera, director of Stanford's stem cell program and formerly of UC San Francisco, and Chris Scott, director of the Stanford program on Stem Cells in Society.

In addition to the comments on the Chronicle site, Monya Baker in Nature's stem cell blog, The Niche, said that it is "troubling" that the company has failed to make any of its customers available for interviews and refuses to provide a copy of the contract that customers sign. Sphere: Related Content

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