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UZ Brusselscientists were the first to grow stem cells from embryos without destroying the embryos. This new technique was a major breakthrough for countries in which stem cell research was being opposed or even prohibited due to embryo death.

Normally, embryo stem cells are derived from the blastocysts of a fertilised egg cell, which causes the embryo to be destroyed. The new technique developed by UZ Brussel enables stem cells to be derived at an earlier stage, immediatelyafter the ovum is fertilised and when the embryo comprises only four cells. Only one single cell is used. The remaining three cells can continue to develop into a foetus, which means that the original embryo is preserved.

It may be that this new technique can also be used to develop a new treatment for children with certain serious blood diseases. At the present time, they can only be helped by so-called “saviour siblings”, babies genetically selected for certain healthy cells compatible with those of a brother or sister with a serious blood disease. In such cases, blood from the umbilical cord is collected immediately after the birth for its hematopoietic stem cells.