British Stem Cell Researcher: Benefits of Therapeutic Cloning Oversold

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 19, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

British Stem Cell Researcher: Benefits of Therapeutic Cloning Oversold Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 19
, 2006

Cambridge, England ( — A leading British scientist who has engaged in stem cell research says the benefits of human cloning for research are being oversold. Professor Austin Smith of the University of Cambridge says research cloning may never lead to cures and that scientists should focus more on adult stem cell research.

Professor Smith told the local Times newspaper that human cloning for research purposes "clearly upsets the general public" and has limited potential for treating diseases. It also adds little to the understanding of human biology, he said.

Smith also indicated that one of the biggest reasons for creating cloned human embryos — to eventually yield patient-specific embryonic stem cells that would overcome immune system rejection issues — may never come to fruition.

Instead, Smith said scientists should spend more time focusing on adult stem cell research or using embryonic stem cells from leftover human embryos from fertility clinics.

Such research has not been given enough attention, he told the Times, but would likely be more beneficial for patients in the long-term.

Smith is also concerned that some cloning experiments are simply being performed out of intellectual curiosity without any real tangible benefit intended.

"Its prominence is out of proportion to the significance of what’s being done, and there are real question marks about whether it has any utility at all," he told the newspaper.

Smith will be the new director of the Wellcome Trust Center for Stem Cell Research in Cambridge, which opens on Monday. He previously was a leader at University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Stem Cell Research, where Dolly the sheep was cloned.

In June, a team Smith led discovered a gene that may make it possible to take adult stem cells and transform them into embryonic ones with the same properties. If their research proves to be a success, it could greatly impact the debate about embryonic stem cell research by reducing the need to use it or human cloning for studies.

The scientists used mouse cells to examine the role of a gene that, when fused to a specialized brain adult stem cell reprograms it into an embryonic one.
Ultimately, a patient’s own stem cells could be turned into embryonic ones and reinserted into their bodies to cure or heal various ailments.

Smith told the San Francisco Chronicle at the time that at least another year of experimental work is needed to understand the reprogramming process, which involves a gene known as "nanog."

"We thought this was something that would take us a very long time to work out, but now this changes from being a black box to something we can work to understand," he said.

Pro-life groups oppose embryonic stem cell research because days-old unborn children are killed for their stem cells. They say adult stem cell research has been successful on its own because it has already produced dozens of cures and treatments.