The scientists’ technique was similar to the one used in the first clone of a mammal, Dolly the sheep, which was created in 1996. They “reprogrammed” an egg cell by removing its DNA and replaced it with that of an adult donor. Scientists then zapped the cell with electricity, which made it divide and multiply. The resulting cells were identical in DNA to the donor.
Paul Knoepfler, an associate professor at the University of California at Davis who studies stem cells, called the new research “exciting, important and technically convincing.”
“In theory you could use those stem cells to produce almost any kind of cell and give it back to a person as a therapy,” he said.
While the research published Thursday involves cells that are technically an early stage embryo, the intention is not to try to grow them into a fully formed human. However, the techniques in theory could be a first step toward creating a baby with the same genetic makeup as a donor.
Shoukhrat Mitalipov, director of the Center for Embryonic Cell and Gene Therapy at Oregon Health & Science University, developed the method that Chung’s group built upon. He emphasized that the work involves eggs that have not been fertilized.
“There will always be opposition to embryonic research, but the potential benefits are huge,” Mitalipov said.
Seventeen years ago, news about Dolly’s birth led to impassioned calls for a ban on human cloning for the purpose of producing a baby who is a genetic copy of someone else. Several countries took measures to limit or outlaw such work. But in the United States, the issue became entangled in the politics of abortion, and Congress became deadlocked. Some lawmakers called for a ban on reproductive human cloning, but others refused to support such legislation unless it included a ban on human cloning whether it was for the purposes of reproduction or for the development of new therapies. At least 15 states have laws addressing human cloning.
CMDA Member and Senior Fellow for Life Sciences at Family Research Council David Prentice, PhD: – “The language continues to be deceptive. Growing ‘stem cells from adults using cloning techniques’ sounds innocent, as if they had taken one heart cell and multiplied it in a dish. Making a ‘reprogrammed’ egg cell, getting it to divide, producing cells ‘identical in DNA to the donor.’ And the requisite ‘exciting’ and ‘new therapies.’
“But the reality is that a new human being was produced by the cloning technique (somatic cell nuclear transfer.) This news story notes that it is ‘technically an early stage embryo,’ but goes on to minimize the humanity of this young being, created asexually in the lab, and instead point toward the theoretical possibilities if the embryo is instead used as raw materials, destroyed for embryonic stem cells that have in reality produced not a single therapy.
“But there is no technicality--this is really an embryo, the youngest stage of human life, just as Dolly the sheep started as a cloned sheep embryo. And while any therapies are conjectural, the reality is the increased likelihood of cloned human children from this scientific advance. In other stories, the cloners themselves admit that the clones they created could develop and be born if implanted in surrogate wombs. It all starts with creation of the new, cloned embryo, an embryo that could then be used for cell stock or transferred to a womb.
“Further, left unsaid is an additional scientific abuse inherent in cloning technology—exploitation of women. Cloning relies on eggs to make the new, living clones, no matter their intended final use. Lots and lots of eggs. The current experiment used seven young women as egg donors (a procedure known to risk their health), collecting a total of 126 eggs for experiments, but resulting in only two cell lines. Egg donors were ‘financially reimbursed,’ an economic incentive that can prey especially on poor young women. An industry that induces women to exchange their eggs and risk their health is exploitive and should not be countenanced.
“It’s time there was an outcry to prohibit manufacture and trafficking of any cloned humans.”
Understanding the Ethics and Opportunity of Scientific Research - Dr. David Prentice
CMDA Resources on Stem Cell Research
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