Dolly Scientist Says Abandon Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 5, 2011   |   1:36PM   |   Washington, DC

Ian Wilmut, the scientist who achieved international notoriety for cloning the sheep Dolly, is now urging his fellow scientists and researchers to abandon embryonic stem cell research.

His comments at a conference follow on the major news that Geron, a cloning company the Obama administration funded to undertake the first human clinical trials involving embryonic-like stem cells, abruptly canceled the trials and got out of the embryonic stem cell research business.

Wilmut spoke to researchers at a late November event in California and said that embryonic stem cells are not likely going to show promise because they lead to the development of tumors after injected into animals in studies and that scientists should focus their energies on non-embryonic stem cell research. Wilmut is particularly impressed by direct programming, a process that takes adult stem cells and reverts them to an embryonic-like state without purposefully creating and destroying human embryos.

“I’m not quite sure why this hasn’t been pursued more actively,” said Wilmut, according to a report in the North County Times.

Baptist Press noticed the newspaper article on the speech and said it “paraphrased him as saying direct reprogramming would provide the benefits of embryonic stem cell research without the risks. The government, he added, likely won’t spend money on embryonic research if a safer method is available.”

BP also talked with LifeNews blogger and former Indiana State University biology professor David Prentice about the speech, and Prentice said Wilmut wasn’t making his argument on ethical grounds but mere feasibility.

“iPS cells are ethically OK, but because they act like an embryonic stem cell, frankly are still not safe,” Prentice said. “Wilmut is saying there is an even better way that gets around the ethical problems but also bypasses much of the safety issues.”

“This is Dolly’s daddy, the guy who cloned Dolly the sheep,” Prentice said. “He’s turned away from cloning, he’s turned away from embryonic stem cells, and he’s pointing towards reprogrammed cells.”

Wilmut first began backing away from embryonic stem cell research and cloning a few years ago and said in 2009 that animal cells “are extremely unlikely to be suitable as recipients for use in human nuclear transfer.” “This is very disappointing because it would mean that production of patient-specific stem cells by this means would be impracticable.”

Dolly was finally created after 300 failed attempts, resulting in miscarriages and malformed offspring. Ultimately, the “successful” result, Dolly, aged too rapidly and had to be euthanized.

Pro-life advocates worry that the same phenomenon will happen when scientists attempt to clone human embryos. Eventually hundreds, if not thousands, of unborn children will be killed in the process.