Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer IS Human Cloning

Bioethics   Wesley J. Smith   May 19, 2013   |   12:49PM    Washington, DC

LifeNews Note: The following is a collection of brief write-ups from Wesley J. Smith on how media and scientists are obfuscating the cloning issue by claiming somatic cell nuclear transfer is not human cloning.

Now that human cloning is upon us, look for many scientists and their camp followers (or ignorant reporters) to mislead about what the technology entails. Human SCNT creates human embryos through asexual means. It does not create stem cells. To obtain cloned stem cells, the embryos have to be nurtured and maintained in a dish for about 10 days, destroyed, and the stem cell lines derived.

But don’t look for the embryo part to make many stories. Early case in point, a story by Loren Grush on FNC:

In a major medical breakthrough, researchers at the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC) have for the first time ever successfully converted human skin cells into embryonic stem cells–via a technique called nuclear transfer. The research has major implications for the future of medical treatments, as many believe embryonic stem cells are the key to treating damaged cells lost through injury or illness.  According to various medical researchers, stem cell therapy has the potential to treat anything from heart disease and spinal cord injuries to major neurological diseases, like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Through a common laboratory method known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), ONPRC scientists, along with researchers at Oregon Health & Science University, essentially swapped the genetic codes of an unfertilized egg and a human skin cell to create their new embryonic stem cells…The combination of the egg’s cytoplasm and the skin cell’s nucleus eventually grows and develops into the embryonic stem cell.

False! Repeat after me: The unfertilized egg is not turned into stem cells. Rather, in the same cloning process as resulted in Dolly the sheep, it becomes an embryo, which is destroyed to obtain the cells. Moreover, the process is hardly common. In fact, this is the first time SCNT has worked in humans. That’s why it’ a big story!

The human cloning issue is going go be a Mt. Everest of ethical contention. If we are going to discuss this rationally, we need accurate information from the scientists and the media. I plan to hold both to account in this regard going forward.

The junk biology is flying in the media’s descriptions of the now accomplished human cloning. This next example comes from the Wall Street Journal’s Gautam Naik. From the ridiculously titled, “Experiment Brings Human Cloning One Step Closer:”

Scientists have used cloning technology to transform human skin cells into embryonic stem cells, an experiment that may revive the controversy over human cloning. The researchers stopped well short of creating a human clone. But they showed, for the first time, that it is possible to create cloned embryonic stem cells that are genetically identical to the person from whom they are derived.

NO. THEY EXPLICITLY CREATED A HUMAN CLONE! That’s what SCNT cloning does; creates a cloned embryo. A cloned embryo–like a natural embryo–is an individual organism, a member of its (in this case, human) species.

Once the SCNT is done, the cloning is over. After that, the question becomes not whether to clone, but what to do with the embryo that was created through the cloning process. These scientists destroyed the embryos and derived stem cell lines.

In fact, don’t take my word for it. Let’s have the authors of the paper describe it. From the Cell paper:

Most embryos…formed one or two pronuclei at the time of removal from TSA, whereas a slightly higher portion of embryos cleaved…suggesting that some SCNT embryos did not exhibit visible pronuclei at the time of examination… Most cleaved embryos developed to the eight-cell stage…but few progressed to compact morula…and blastocyst..stages. Activation of embryonic genes and transcription from the transplanted somatic cell nucleus are required for development of SCNT embryos beyond the eight-cell stage…Therefore, these results are consistent with the premise that our modified SCNT protocol supports reprogramming of human somatic cells to the embryonic state.

Media: Get it right, or don’t get it at all!

I now see that the old dishonest game is well afoot: Biotech types and media pretending that human cloning isn’t really human cloning unless a baby is born. The cloning breakthrough is instead being spun as skin cells into stem cells!  As if it were induced pluripotent stem cells, which really do turn skin into stem cells.

But back to the mendacity. A story in News.Com.Au–which runs stories from several Australian newspapers celebrates the cloning breakthrough because it means no embryos are used in the process!  From the story, “Embryonic Stem Cell Made From Skin:”

US researchers have reported a breakthrough in stem cell research, describing how they have turned human skin cells into embryonic stem cells for the first time. The method described on Wednesday by Oregon State University scientists in the journal Cell, would not likely be able to create human clones, said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, senior scientist at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. But it is an important step in research because it doesn’t require the use of embryos in creating the type of stem cell capable of transforming into any other type of cell in the body.

Doesn’t require the use of embryos? IT MAKES EMBRYOS TO BE USED! From the paper:

Most embryos…formed one or two pronuclei at the time of removal from TSA, whereas a slightly higher portion of embryos cleaved…suggesting that some SCNT embryos did not exhibit visible pronuclei at the time of examination… Most cleaved embryos developed to the eight-cell stage…but few progressed to compact morula…and blastocyst..stages. Activation of embryonic genes and transcription from the transplanted somatic cell nucleus are required for development of SCNT embryos beyond the eight-cell stage…Therefore, these results are consistent with the premise that our modified SCNT protocol supports reprogramming of human somatic cells to the embryonic state.

Repeat after me: Human SCNT creates a human embryo through asexual means. It doesn’t create stem cells. The cloning is completed when the SCNT is accomplished. After that, there is no more cloning. The only question is what you do with the living human embryo you have manufactured.

CLICK LIKE IF YOU’RE PRO-LIFE!

 

The LA Times has waded in to the junk biology game, assuring us that no embryos are threatened in human cloning–WHEN THE WHOLE POINT OF HUMAN CLONING IS TO CREATE AN EMBRYO!  From the editorial, “The Specter of Human Cloning:”

The team at OHSU, which disclosed its work in a paper published online by Cell, created embryonic stem cells by replacing the nucleus in an unfertilized human egg with the nucleus from a skin cell, then harvesting the resulting stem cells. This long-sought technique may eventually let doctors create replacement cells for a wide variety of tissues from bits of a patient’s own skin. One advantage to this approach is that, unlike much of the initial work on stem cells, it doesn’t require the destruction of human embryos. That practice drew fierce opposition from some religious leaders and right-to-life groups, although their criticism has faded as researchers switched to adult stem cells and, more recently, regular cells reprogrammed into stem cells through genetic engineering.

Some critics continue to argue that it’s unethical to manipulate the genetic makeup of human eggs even if they’re unfertilized, and others warn about potential harm to egg donors. The biggest ethical issue for the OHSU team, though, is that it artificially created a human embryo, albeit one that was missing the components needed for implantation and development as a fetus.

So it isn’t an embryo, but it is?

Pay close attention: Dolly came from an “unfertilized egg” and became a sheep. Before that, she was a sheep embryo and a sheep fetus. The act of cloning does not get the egg to create stem cells, it produces an embryo.  After that, the cloning is over and the question becomes what to do with the embryo, NOT WHAT TO DO WITH THE UNFERTILIZED EGG!

As to the question of reproductive cloning: The researchers haven’t tried to bring a human baby to birth. They note that they have also not been able yet to bring a cloned monkey embryo to birth. That doesn’t mean they won’t. It’s all just a matter of technology now. Indeed,  until lately, you couldn’t make human cloned embryos. Now scientists can.

The Times argues in favor of a ban on reproductive cloning, but permitting research cloning to proceed:

Still, the federal government needs to set rules that would stop researchers in this country from crossing the line between generating stem cells and trying to bring a cloned embryo to life. Adding a clear prohibition would help assure the public that stem cell research should be embraced, not feared.

AAUGH! The cloned embryo is already alive! 

Here’s the strategy: Big Biotech is always willing to prohibit that which they cannot yet do. But they want authority to conduct the research they can do, which will eventually lead to being able to do what they can’t, at which point the prohibition is revoked because now “society is ready.”

Bottom line: If you want to prevent the eventual birth of a cloned human baby, the only way to do that is prohibit human SCNT. 

Thanks to Brendan P. Foht, over at The Corner, for showing that it was misleading to claim that SCNT human cloning could not lead to a human pregnancy because there have been no successful cloned monkey pregnancies. But there have been cloned monkey pregnancies, with one embryo developing to the fetal stage with a heartbeat! From the 2010 article in the International Journal of Biological Development:

At present, the production of live primate offspring following SCNT has yet to be accomplished (Mitalipov et al., 2002; Simerly et al., 2003). We summarize here our recent unpublished efforts in embryo transfer using rhesus blastocysts produced by SCNT with adult monkey skin cells expressing GFP (Table 3). A total of 5 pregnancies were established following transfer of 67 embryos into 10 recipients (Tables 3 and 4). Only one pregnancy resulted in a live fetus that possessed a fetal heartbeat, detected by ultrasonographic scans, while other pregnancies contained sacs without a fetus (Fig. 2). Unfortunately, this pregnancy failed to go to term and was aborted at day 81 of gestation.

The same early difficulties were experienced by researchers in cloning other mammals. But starting with Dolly, difficulties bringing a cloned fetus to birth were eventually overcome.

Bottom line: Monkeys have been impregnated successfully with cloned embryos, resulting in some gestational success. The rest is simply a matter of technique. Eventually, a cloned monkey infant will almost certainly be born. The very research now being conducted in human cloning is a required step toward attaining that same potential end with us.

LifeNews.com Note: Wesley J. Smith, J.D., is a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture and a bioethics attorney who blogs at Secondhand Smoke.