For years Massachusetts company Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) has been trying to clone human embryos. They have been working with somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), the same technique that cloned Dolly the sheep, in vain attempts to get cloned human embryo to grow long enough to produce embryonic stem cells. ACT has even tried using cow, rabbit and mouse eggs instead of human eggs to produce cloned human embryos.
Well, ACT has finally done it. Working with the research of Oregon scientists who last year announced that they had successfully cloned embryos using cells from infants and fetuses, ACT reports that they were successful in creating cloned embryos from 35 and 75 year old men.
From the Time story:
A previous claim that Korean investigators had succeeded in the feat turned out to be fraudulent. Then last year, a group at Oregon Health & Science University generated stem cells using the Dolly technique, but with cells from fetuses and infants.
In this case, cells from a 35-year-old man and a 75-year-old man were used to generate two separate lines of stem cells. The process, known as nuclear transfer, involves taking the DNA from a donor and inserting it into an egg that has been stripped of its DNA. The resulting hybrid is stimulated to fuse and start dividing; after a few days the “embryo” creates a lining of stem cells that are destined to develop into all of the cells and tissues in the human body. Researchers extract these cells and grow them in the lab, where they are treated with the appropriate growth factors and other agents to develop into specific types of cells, like neurons, muscle, or insulin-producing cells.
Reporting in the journal Cell Stem Cell, Dr. Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at biotechnology company Advanced Cell Technology, and his colleagues found that tweaking the Oregon team’s process was the key to success with reprogramming the older cells.
To be clear, ACT did not produce “embryos” (in quotes) but embryos (no quotes needed). These are real human embryos created and destroyed for research. Not quasi embryos, real embryos.
Also these are not true clones. SCNT requires eggs. Those eggs have residual DNA outside the nucleus from the woman that donated them. So these embryonic stem cell lines are not a complete genetic match to the men who were cloned.
The egg issue is not a small one because real women had to put their fertility and even their lives at risk to provide the raw materials for this dubious research:
The team, which included an international group of stem cell scientists, used 77 eggs from four different donors…. the findings confirm that the key factor in making nuclear transfer work with human cells is not the age of the donor cell, as some experts have argued, but the quality of the donor egg. “No matter how much you tweak the protocols or optimize them, it looks like the major player in efficiency is the individual egg quality,” says Mitalipov. He notes that all of his stem cell lines came from the same egg donor. The two cell lines described by Lanza’s group also came from one egg donor.
My first reaction after reading this was, “I wonder if the women that provide the magic eggs needed for this cloning process to work are
already being harassed to provide more?”
My second reaction is frustration at the lack of a massive outcry from feminists at what is clearly a commodification of women for their parts. With induced pluripotent stem cell technology we don’t need eggs to make embryonic-like stem cells matched to a patient. iPSCs are made with no eggs, no embryos and no cloning. Why aren’t feminists picketing in front of OHSU and ACT demanding the end to the exploitation of women’s bodies to fuel their research?
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Luckily we still have the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, federal law that prohibits federal tax dollars from funding research that creates and destroys embryos, to prevent massive government funding of human cloning. There are also state statutes that prohibit the funding of research where women were paid for their eggs. With these funding restrictions in place, many researchers opt to work with iPSCs instead of trying to get into the cloning game.
If these funding laws are removed it will be a cloning free-for-all. Women’s lives and fertility will be put at risk and human embryos will be cloned for use as spare parts. It is time to outlaw the cloning of human embryos across the board. This research is immoral. It puts women’s health in jeopardy. And with new advances in reprogramming adult cells, it is unnecessary.
I am with Wesley J. Smith at the National Review who titled his blog post on this announcement “Adults Cloned! Outlaw Before It’s Too Late.”