U.S. scientists for the first time have used a cloning technique to get tailor-made embryonic stem cells to produce in unfertilized human egg cells, a landmark decision and a potential new flashpoint for opponents of stem cell research.
The researchers were trying to confirm whether it is possible to use a cloning technology called somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT, to compose embryonic stem cells that equal a patient’s DNA.
The achievement, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, is significant because such patient-specific cells potentially can be transplanted to replace smashed cells in people with diabetes and other diseases without denunciation by the immune system.
This technique could ignite new controversy because some opponents consider it to be cloning, which they severely oppose.
“This paper will be seen as significant both by those who are demanding to use SCNT to produce human patient-specific embryonic stem cell lines and by those who oppose human ‘cloning’ experiments,” said Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, a division head at Britain’s National Institute for Medical Research.
Stem cells are the body’s master cells, the supply material for all other cells. Proponents of embryonic stem cells say they could transform medicine, providing treatments for blindness, juvenile diabetes or harsh injuries.
Normally, SCNT involves removing genetic material from the nucleus of the host egg cell and replacing it with the nucleus from adult cells, the system used to clone animals such as Dolly the sheep in 1996. But scientists so far have failed to get these cells to grow and divide beyond a very premature stage in humans and non-human primates.
Scientists in this cram, led by Dieter Egli and Scott Noggle at The New York Stem Cell Foundation Laboratory in New York, kept the genetic material from the host egg and minimally added the nucleus from the mature cells.