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Scientists Claim Cloning Success


Staff member
Scientists Claim Cloning Success

Published: February 12, 2004 - New York Times

Scientists in South Korea report that they have created human embryos through cloning and extracted embryonic stem cells, the universal cells that hold great promise for medical research.

Their goal, the scientists say, is not to clone humans but to advance understanding of the causes and treatment of disease.

But the work makes the birth of a cloned baby suddenly more feasible. For that reason, it is likely to reignite the fierce debate over the ethics of human cloning.

The work was led by Dr. Woo Suk Hwang and Dr. Shin Yong Moon of Seoul National University and will be published tomorrow in the journal Science. The paper provides a detailed description of how to create human embryos by cloning. Experts in the field not involved with the work said they found the paper persuasive.

"You now have the cookbook, you have a methodology that's publicly available," said Dr. Robert Lanza, medical director of a company, Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., that had tried without success to do what the South Koreans did.

Although the paper, written in dense jargon and summarizing its findings by saying, "We report the derivation of a pluripotent embryonic stem cell line (SCNT-hES-1) from a cloned human blastocyst," its import was immediately clear to researchers.

"My reaction is, basically, wow," said Dr. Richard Rawlins, an embryologist who is director of the assisted reproduction laboratories at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "It's a landmark paper."

It is what patients with diseases like Parkinson's and diabetes had been waiting for, the start of so-called therapeutic cloning. The idea is to clone a patients cells to make embryonic stem cells that are an exact genetic match of the patient. Then those cells, patients hope, could be turned into replacement tissue to treat or cure their disease without provoking rejection from the body's immune system.

Even though the new work clears a significant hurdle, scientists caution that it could take years of further research before stem cell science turns into actual therapies.

Even before the publication — reported last night by a South Korean newspaper, one day ahead of the embargo imposed by Science — the research was criticized by cloning opponents.

Dr. Leon R. Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, called for federal legislation to stop human cloning for any purpose.

"The age of human cloning has apparently arrived: today, cloned blastocysts for research, tomorrow cloned blastocysts for babymaking," Dr. Kass wrote in an e-mail message. "In my opinion, and that of the majority of the Council, the only way to prevent this from happening here is for Congress to enact a comprehensive ban or moratorium on all human cloning."

The House has twice passed legislation that would ban all human cloning experiments, most recently in February 2003. But the bills have foundered in the Senate, where many members who oppose reproductive cloning do not want to ban it for medical research.

Dr. Hwang said he knew that the work would elicit strong responses but that the research was so important it should be done anyway, adding that there was strict oversight by an ethics committee.

"Of course," he said, "we acknowledge that there will be controversy. But as scientists, we think it is our obligation to do this."

The paper describes the successful process in detail, with precise information on how to start the embryos growing and what solutions are best to nourish them. That recipe appears to advance the likelihood of reproductive cloning. When fertility laboratories fertilize eggs, grow embryos to the same developmental stage as the embryo clones and implant them in a human uterus, 40 to 60 percent end up as babies.

The scientists stress that all the research was in the laboratory, in petri dishes. No embryo was implanted in a woman. The women who provided unfertilized eggs that were needed to start the cloning process were not paid.

The research was financed by the government of South Korea, where cloning to create a baby is illegal.

Alex D. from TRIBE on Utility Room