For some time, scientists have been able to craft precise genetic copies of many creatures. Whether they are animals, or single cells, they are similarly referred to as clones. For various technical and perceived ethical reasons, the procedures involved have been difficult to replicate for humans.
Scientists in Oregon successfully used cloning to harvest human embryonic stem cells, a major scientific breakthrough that could help doctors develop tissue replacement treatment for various diseases ranging from Parkinson’s to diabetes.
The researchers, at Oregon Health and Science University, took skin cells from a baby with a genetic disease and fused them with donated human eggs to create human embryos that were genetically identical to the 8-month-old. They then extracted stem cells from those embryos. The embryo-creation technique is essentially the same as that used to create Dolly the sheep and the many cloned animals that have followed. In those cases, the embryos were implanted in the wombs of surrogate mothers.
The researchers say they have no intention of using the method to clone human babies. Still, the breakthrough did not sit well with some religious and pro-life groups, who object to the creation of embryos on the basis that they will eventually have to be destroyed.
“It involves the decision to utilize early human beings as repositories for obtaining desired cells,” Rev. Tad Pacholczyk, director of education for National Catholic Bioethics Center, told the Associated Press. “You’re creating them only to destroy them.”
The study, published in the journal Cell, says the purpose of the method is to create stem cells that genetically match a potential patient. Right now, stem cells are harvested in embryos from fertilization in fertility clinics. The Times notes that genetically matched cells could mean a higher success rate for tissue, and even organ, regeneration.