Scientists reported Thursday that for the first time they have made human embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos, a development that the government’s top stem cell official said would make the controversial research eligible for federal funding.

Story Landis, who chairs the National Institute of Health’s stem cell task force, said that with certain safeguards, the new method appeared to comply with federal restrictions that have largely cut scientists off from the $28 billion the government spends on medical research each year.

Federal law prohibits the National Institutes of Health from paying for experiments that place human embryos at risk of injury or death, and spending on human embryonic stem cell research is restricted to projects involving a handful of cell lines that were created before August 2001.

Researchers at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., created four stem cell lines out of individual cells plucked from 3-day-old embryos, which continued to develop normally after the procedure. The method was described in the online edition of the journal Cell Stem Cell.

The removal of a single cell from a young embryo is done thousands of times a year in the U.S. by fertility laboratories to screen embryos for genetic diseases.

Dr. Robert Lanza, Advanced Cell Technology’s chief scientific officer, said researchers could piggyback on the procedure by allowing the removed cell to divide in a laboratory dish. Then, with the consent of patients, one copy could be used for genetic screening and the other to make stem cells.

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