Successful embryo stem cell cloning draws moral fire

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A new landmark stem cell technique in therapeutic cloning opens new horizons in treating rare diseases and disorders caused by gene mutations. Yet, like any kind of human cloning, the research has sparked controversy on either side of the Atlantic.

A decade-long effort of geneticists worldwide has finally been crowned with success. On May 15, The Cell published report from scientists in Oregon that they have managed to harvest stem cells from six human embryos bred from donated eggs.

Two embryos got DNA of a child with a genetic disorder (samples taken from skin cells), and the other four were raised with DNA from fetal skin cells.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, senior scientist at Oregon Health & Science University, has announced elaboration of a breakthrough technology enabling production of personalized stem cells to cure illnesses with this unique human tissue.

“This [research] represents an unparalleled achievement. They succeeded where many other groups failed, including mine,” stem cell biologist George Daley of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute shared with Reuters.

Some illnesses are caused by genetic disorder, by mutations in mitochondria genes which power cell development. The new technique makes it possible to replace defective with healthy ones by supplying tissue with new mitochondrial genes.

Stem cells can develop into any of the over 200 types of tissue in a human body and replace the diseased tissue with new healthy cells.

Mitalipov and his team have come a long way to achieve the long-expected positive result so much anticipated by the developing stem-cell medical fraternity.

It took six years of experiments with monkey embryos to get positive results with human ones. In 2009, they cloned Macaque monkey twins Mito and Tracker, which brought them worldwide fame for being the first to develop the technology of transplantation of chromosomal complex into primates’ eggs, thus making cloning of a primate – and potentially a human – possible.

At the same time Mitalipov particularly stressed that human embryos made with his technique could not be developed into cloned babies and he has no desire to check this out.

In September 2010 the US Clinical Events Committee granted Mitalipov’s team a license to work with human eggs and embryos. Then there were over two years of hard work that finally ended with a genetic technology breakthrough.

In word the technique is ‘simple’. DNA from a patient is implanted into a human egg, which develop into an early embryo with patient’s DNA. Then the embryo is used to obtain stem cells for treatment of such diseases as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disorder, various hereditary heart diseases etc.

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