Clones without Cloning
Special Report - July 27, 2009
A new breakthrough in stem cell technology raises simultaneous excitement and concern in the pro-life community. Chinese researchers have enhanced the induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) therapy that can revert an existing cell back into an embryonic state to grow mice from skin cells. Cells in an embryonic state are so valuable because of their ability to yield any type of cell. Until 2007, the only known source for such cells was human embryos, which brought tremendous outcry and concern from the pro-life community over the harvesting and killing of early stage humans for scientific research. Since various breakthroughs in the past year, scientists have been able to use non-controversial adult stem cells for the same research once they have been reverted to an embryonic state.
In a study published July 23 in the journals Nature and Stem Cell, Chinese researchers reported having created baby mice from iPSCs who were able to reproduce. One study yielded 27 mice, who produced 100 second and 100 third generation mice. While some of the first generation mice had abnormalities, the authors argue that their study proves that iPSCs can produce any tissues and create cells identical to embryonic stem cells. They also reject intentions to use the technology to clone humans. "It would not be ethical to attempt to use iPS cells in human reproduction," Fanyi Zeng of Shanghai Jiao Tong University and one of the study’s authors said in a telephone news conference. "It is important for science to have ethical boundaries." She emphasized that this work is "in no way meant as a first step in that direction."
While pro-lifers celebrate another success in adult stem cell therapy that further reduces the need for embryo-destructive research, the specifics of this new research still raise some red flags. Though the method used, tetraploid complementation, is technically different from cloning, it still results in a genetically identical copy of the donor. The iPSC used is merely injected into a host, so that the DNA material remains unchanged from that of the adult cell donor.
“Advances like this one in adult stem cell therapies t are encouraging from both a scientific and moral perspective, in that they continue to constantly prove the ineffectiveness of embryo-destructive stem cell research,” said to Matt Lytle, director of research for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “It is alarming that scientists are able to create a living being from stem cells. While there have been debates about the nature and rights of clones, this new procedure, which is not technically cloning, could be used by some scientists to sidestep cloning restrictions. While the matter of producing the living being is different, the result is the same: clones without the cloning.”
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