A recent advancement in stem cell research may eventually avoid the moral controversy and also provide a more efficient method than cloning human embryos. This has prompted a pioneer in cloning, Prof Ian Wilmut, to turn away from that technology and focus on a new method that shows more promise.
The scientist who created Dolly the sheep, a breakthrough that provoked headlines around the world a decade ago, is to abandon the cloning technique he pioneered to create her.
Prof Ian Wilmut's decision to turn his back on "therapeutic cloning", just days after US researchers announced a breakthrough in the cloning of primates, will send shockwaves through the scientific establishment.
Prof Wilmut, who works at Edinburgh University, believes a rival method pioneered in Japan has better potential for making human embryonic cells which can be used to grow a patient's own cells and tissues for a vast range of treatments, from treating strokes to heart attacks and Parkinson's, and will be less controversial than the Dolly method, known as "nuclear transfer."
His announcement could mark the beginning of the end for therapeutic cloning...
Most of his motivation is practical but he admits the Japanese approach is also "easier to accept socially."
His inspiration comes from the research by Prof Shinya Yamanaka at Kyoto University, which suggests a way to create human embryo stem cells without the need for human eggs, which are in extremely short supply, and without the need to create and destroy human cloned embryos, which is bitterly opposed by the pro life movement.
As for that breakthrough regarding the cloning of primates:
And Prof Wilmut believes there is still a long way to go for therapeutic cloning to work, despite the headlines greeting this week's announcement in Nature by Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov and colleagues at Oregon Health & Science University, Beaverton, that they cloned primate embryos.
...Dr Mitalipov himself admits the efficiency is low and, though his work is a "proof of principle" and the efficiency of his methods has improved, he admits it is not yet a cost effective medical option.
Cloning is still too wasteful of precious human eggs, which are in great demand for fertility treatments, to consider for creating embryonic stem cells. "It is a nice success but a bit limited," commented Prof Wilmut. "Given the low efficiency, you wonder just how long nuclear transfer will have a useful life."
Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, had more to add concerning that primate cloning breakthrough.
"We read that 15,000 monkey eggs were used in order to develop the new protocol; that the current application of this protocol required 304 eggs to derive 2 embryonic stem cell lines, one of which was chromosomally abnormal, delivering an extremely low success rate of 0.7 per cent.
"...it is unlikely that anybody could obtain the number of eggs necessary for such experiments.
"...embryos created were morphologically poor and attempts at pregnancy on 77 occasions were all unsuccessful. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, the lead scientist is quoted as saying, 'No pregnancy made it even to day 25.'" (source)
Be sure to read the entire three page article.
I do have to wonder if this will get as much play in the MSM as the primate cloning breakthrough.
Hopefully all sides surrounding this issue can see this as an advancement that should be vigorously pursued. Unfortunately, some may react negatively to such an achievement, if their actual motivation has more to do with strengthening abortion "rights". However, while many of us consider pro-life moral issues to be primary, it appears this may also appeal to those who disagree with us. The greater efficiency being possible, those who are entirely utilitarian in their consideration may still find this an attractive solution and join with those of us who are concerned first with moral issues. Perhaps this is another substantial reason to give much support to research in this technology.
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