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Inside Story

Back to the future: Cloning human stem cells

Will a new scientific achievement to produce human stem cells eventually lead to human cloning?

Last Modified: 17 May 2013 17:01
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In a major step forward in science, biologists have finally managed to create human stem cells through cloning. Some say it advances the search for medical treatments, others call for new laws to prevent cloning for ethical reasons.

Whether or not this has any impact medically remains to be seen, because there are other methods for generating these
stem cells.

Lyle Armstrong, a doctor and senior lecturer at the Institute of Genetic Medicine

The first attempt at cloning took place over fifteen years ago. In 1996, Dolly the sheep was the first animal to be cloned by scientists in Scotland.

Since then, the process has been carried out on dogs, mice and other animal species. Now, scientists in the US have used similar techniques, which created Dolly, to produce embryos in order to clone human stem cells.

"The technique isn’t new – the results are," reports Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher. "Microscopic genetic material was taken from an adult cell. It was then inserted into an egg whose own DNA had been removed. This creates human embryonic stem cells, which are capable of becoming any of the more than 200 types of cells that make up a person. That’s important because those cells could be used to treat devastating conditions such as multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, heart disease or Parkinsons."

Many experts say the new research using human embryonic stem cells cannot be used to clone humans.

An alternative and far less controversial way of creating stem cells is already available. It involves reprogramming mature cells, which are often taken from the skin. And it allows scientists to sidestep ethical issues because there is no need to use embryos.

So, should we be using the technology to clone human stem cells? How important a breakthrough is this new scientific achievement and can it eventually lead to human cloning?

Inside Story, with presenter Ghida Fakhry, is joined by guests: Lyle Armstrong, a senior lecturer at the Institute of Genetic Medicine, University of Newcastle upon Tyne; Josephine Quintavalle, the director and co-founder of Corethics, an organisation that comments on reproductive ethics; and David King, the director and founder of Human Genetics Alert.

"I think we're whipping a dead donkey here, this is yesterday's science and I think they could close what they are doing there in the United States and focus on where the real future lies in the area of regenerative medicine ... We can do this, do the patient specific stem cell without having to clone a human embryo."

- Josephine Quintavalle, the director and co-founder of Corethics

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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