A Stanford bioethicist has gone back to the drawing board to come up with take two of a controversial method to create cells as powerful as embryonic stem cells without creating or destroying embryos.

Dr. William Hurlbut’s first attempt to find a solution to the ethical quandary of embryonic stem-cell research — which researchers believe could lead to therapies for devastating diseases, but which faces resistance from people who oppose destroying embryos — received mixed reviews.



Despite Hurlbut’s efforts to explain what he believed was a morally sound technique for obtaining the cells, some religious leaders called it creepy and some scientists said it was an unnecessary obstacle. But Hurlbut, a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, now says he and about 30 leading scientists and bioethicists have hammered out a procedure that’s more accessible theoretically and more feasible scientifically. He and his colleagues will reveal details next week, he said, in conjunction with the annual International Society for Stem Cell Research meeting in San Francisco.



“This will make it even more clear that there’s no embryo,” Hurlbut said. “This is even less controversial than what we first started with.”



Hurlbut’s first idea proposed using human cloning technology, or somatic cell nuclear transfer, to join a human egg and genetically altered human tissue. The result of this “altered nuclear transfer” would not be an embryo, he said, but a disorganized mass of human cells. Nevertheless, the proposal left some critics with the image of a ghoulish bundle of teeth, eyes, fingers and various human organs.



At a meeting of the president’s bioethics council in March, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer called the proposed technique “repugnant and weird,” according to Wired magazine. Paul McHugh, chief of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said, “It’s a kind of pollution of the human genome.” And Michael Sandel, a Harvard University professor of government, called it “morally creepy.”



Hurlbut said he’s determined to solve what appears to be an impasse between those for and against embryonic stem-cell research. Although the new technique will be a variation on the same theme, Hurlbut said it will allay the yuck factor.



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