ICBioethics Blog 

Health Technology Update: Success in Human Stem Cell Cloning

Written by: Aimee Zellers

If you work in the realm of healthcare or biotechnology you are no doubt familiar with the debate concerning embryonic stem cells. A group of scientists published an article in the journal Cell which reported that the group that successfully reprogrammed a human skin cell back to an embryonic state. This was done using a process called nuclear transfer.

Understanding the Science

Nuclear transfer – this a process that involves inserting a fully developed cell (in this study it was a skin cell) into the nucleus of an egg. The egg is then manipulated into dividing. In natural human biology this division occurs when the egg has been fertilized by sperm. After several days of division, the cluster of cells contains a blanket of embryonic stem cells containing the genetic material of the donor skin cell. These embryonic stem cells then have the capacity to be developed in to any cell type.

The Ethics

Perfecting this type of process helps mitigate some of the ethical concerns surround the use of embryonic stem cells in research. The ferocious political and ethical debate surrounding the use of embryonic stems cells, primarily during the Bush administration, occurred because embryos had to be destroyed during the process of retrieving the stem cells. With this new process, an embryo is not being used, so many of the arguments based strictly on the status of the embryo are not a central concern. A more pressing ethical issue surrounds cloning and to what extent cloning is acceptable. Cloning via nuclear transfer to create stem cells in an effort to produce tissues and possibly organs to help people survive serious diseases or injury is a laudable endeavor. The purpose of this research, according to the authors of the study, is not to clone a humans being. Rather, it is produce lines of embryonic stem cells which can be developed in to different types of tissues. In doing so, we can eventually develop transplantable tissues and organs. Another benefit of this technique is that the stem cells that are created contain the donor’s genetic material. This means that if tissues are grown from these stem cells, they will genetically match the donor, which will increase the success rates of transplants and grafts, as well as limit the risk of rejection that comes with introducing new genetic material into existing bodies. Obviously we shouldn’t be cloning humans; that is problematic on a number of levels. Yet, me must be cognizant of how we apply this technology in medicine, using this type technology for reproductive purposes would be like be likely viewed by the medical community as unethical or even illegal, not to mention very risky. So, in short, this new technique helps resolve one ethical dilemma while at the same time rekindling questions surrounding ethics and cloning.

Check out this new research in Cell

Mitch GennusoComment