Human embryos have been cloned to create stem cells, in a scientific breakthrough that has opened the door to revolutionary treatment of spinal cord injuries and a wide range of incurable diseases.
In a breakthrough by Korean researchers, skin cells were taken from people with spinal injuries or genetic disorders and used in a cloning process to extract embryonic stem cells for future therapy.
The scientists yesterday revealed they had succeeded in creating 31 cloned human embryos, and cultivated 11 embryonic stem cell “lines”. The cell lines are cultures of “master” cells that can go on to become any type of cell in the body.
This may lead to treatments where stem cells are grown outside the body and then re-introduced without triggering an attack by the body’s immune system.
All the donated cells used to make the cloned embryos were from volunteers with spinal cord injuries, Type 1 diabetes or a genetic immune system disorder called hypogammaglobulinaemia.
The confirmation that it is possible to create embryonic stem cells that are a genetic match for an adult human also opens up the possibility that stem cells could be grown in a laboratory and then reinserted into a patient to repair or replace damaged organs.
As the DNA in the replicated cells would be identical to the patient’s, there should be no danger of the injected cells being attacked by the body’s own immune system.
The latest Korean research — published yesterday in the journal Science — came as British researchers announced they had also succeeded in producing a cloned human embryo, using the same technique of injecting genetic material from a donor cell into a human egg cell that had had its own genetic nucleus removed.
Unlike the Koreans, the British scientists have yet to extract any stem cells.
Australia currently bans this “nuclear transfer” procedure altogether, and the US has withdrawn government funding for it.
Britain and Korea allow it, but only for “therapeutic” reasons where the resulting “blastocyst” – a young embryo of about 100 cells – is used for medical research or treatment.
Many countries, including Britain, have banned so-called “reproductive cloning” that would result in a cloned baby, and many scientists worldwide – including those behind the Korean and British results – oppose its use for this purpose.