The greenish glow in the petri dish—a marker for the presence of germ cells—showed that veterinary-school researchers had succeeded in a decade-long quest to get male-mouse stem cells to develop into eggs. By Joan P. Capuzzi Giresi

 


It was a quiet little experiment, the product of a pensive scientist’s restless imagination. A purist’s quest. But when Dr. Hans Schöler, working in his lab at the veterinary school’s New Bolton Center, transformed embryo cells from male mice into oocytes—eggs—in a petri dish, he also spawned protest, praise, and bad-pun headlines.

 

The religious called his work evil. The bioethicists asked if it was good for society. The skeptics said, “ but show us more.” Infertile heterosexual and gay male couples clamored for help in procuring eggs so they too might procreate.

“Everyone had an interest for the sake of his or her own genetic material,” says Dr. Karin Hübner, Schöler’s research-analysis manager and lead author on the groundbreaking paper, “Derivation of Oocytes from Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells,” published in Science Online and Science Magazine in May.

Contributing to the frenzy was the mass media, which—with distorted coverage and a spate of silly headlines—seemed to ignore the fact that the experiments were performed on mice, and not humans.

But the true significance of Schöler’s work was not lost on the scientific community. Dr. John Gearhart, the C. Michael Armstrong Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins, whose lab was the first to isolate human embryonic germ cells, calls the discovery brilliant. “An absolute technical tour de force,” says Gearhart’s partner in the project, Dr. Peter J. Donovan, associate professor at Thomas Jefferson University’s Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Dr. Ian Wilmut, leader of the Roslin Institute team in Scotland
that cloned Dolly, the sheep, predicts Schöler’s findings are “certain to lead to a new understanding of the causes of infertility and ultimately to methods for treating some forms of infertility.”

“They have shattered another dogma,” says Dr. Jose Cibélli, Michigan State University professor of animal biotechnology and one of the founders of Massachusetts-based cloning pioneer, Advanced Cell Technology, Inc. “We knew we could make any cells from embryonic stem cells. But we would never have dreamed of having eggs produced from embryonic stem cells.”

page 1 > 2 > 3 > 4


2003 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 09/02/03

FEATURE: The Most Amazing Cell
By Joan P. Capuzzi Giresi
Illustration by Julia Vakser