For the first time, scientists have cloned human embryos capable of producing embryonic stem cells which could be used to treat a wide range of human diseases ranging from diabetes and Alzheimer's to Parkinson's and spinal cord injuries.
"It's been a holy grail that we've been after for years," said Dr. John Gearhart, a stem-cell pioneer at the University of Pennsylvania.
According to National Public Radio
, previous attempts ended in failure, even though scientists at the Oregon Health & Science University, where this latest experiment was carried out, had successfully developed the technique on mice and monkeys, and the same method was used to clone Dolly the sheep.
Using human eggs, the team removed most of the DNA from each egg and replaced it with DNA from other peoples' skin cells. They managed to fertilize the eggs without sperm by using a combination of an unexpected chemical, caffeine, and an electric pulse, and developed them to a stage where they could produce healthy stem cells containing the genes from the skin cells and other types of cells, including heart cells.
Referring to it as "The Starbucks experiment," Dr. George Daley, a Harvard stem-cell scientist, told NPR, "This is a huge scientific advance. But it's going to, I think, raise the specter of controversy again."
One critic of the science, Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, a bioethicist and professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, summed it up by saying, "This is a case in which one is deliberately setting out to create a human being for the sole purpose of destroying that human being. I'm of the school that thinks that that's morally wrong no matter how much good could come of it."
According to NPR, Sulmasy said he is also concerned that it's the first step toward human cloning, though the scientists involved in the Oregon human embryo experiment say it is unlikely.
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