They have done it – make an extraordinary “xerox machine” that could virtually produce copies of real humans – with flesh and bones and all internal organs!
First, US scientists were able to make dead hearts beat again (see my previous blog on that). Now, they’ve gone beyond further – take the first step towards making human clones!
In a development that could rock the foundations of morality, ethics, religion and science, scientists in California have announced that they have produced five human embryos that are clones of two men.
Their work was published online Thursday by the journal “Stem Cells.”
If verified, the team at Stemagen Corp. of La Jolla, California, would be the first to prove they have cloned human beings as a source of stem cells, the master cells of the body — which scientists hope to harness to repair devastating injuries and cure diseases.
Dr. Samuel Wood, a co-author of the new paper and chief executive of Stemagen Corp., said he and his colleagues are now attempting to produce stem cell lines from the embryos.
The scientists say stem cells from cloned embryos could provide a valuable tool for studying diseases, screening drugs and, perhaps someday, creating transplant material to treat conditions like diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
But critics are raising hell. The process “involves creating human lives in the laboratory solely to destroy them for alleged benefit to others,” said Richard Doerflinger, spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Other critics worry about the health risks and the exploitation of large numbers of women who would be asked to provide eggs for the embryos.
As to be expected, the Catholic Church wasted no time in condemning the cloning of human embryos, calling it the “worst type of exploitation of the human being.”
“This ranks among the most morally illicit acts, ethically speaking,” said Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the Vatican department that helps oversee the Church’s position on bioethics issues.
Sgreccia said the cloning research was unjustifiable and unnecessary, given advances in similar research that bypasses the controversial use of embryos.
“There isn’t even — I won’t say the justification, because it’s never justified — but not even the pretext of finding something (new),” he told Vatican radio.
There are several types of stem cells. Embryonic stem cells, made from days-old embryos, are considered the most powerful because they can give rise to all the cell types in the body.
Other teams have made stem cells they believe are similar to embryonic cells using a variety of techniques, including reprogramming ordinary skin cells into what are called induced pluripotent stem cells.
Sgreccia said, given the alternatives, he could not understand why scientists wanted to use human embryos — which the Roman Catholic Church believes should be protected.
Stemagen Corp. said it used a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT, which involves hollowing out an egg cell and injecting the nucleus of a cell from the donor to be copied — in this case, the skin cells from the two US scientists.
It is the same technique used to make Dolly the sheep in 1996, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult.
Scientists are justifying cloning as a way to create a “human repair kit.” In other words, scientists could clone our cells and fix mutated genes that cause diseases.
With cloned human embryos, scientists can grow replacement organs, such as hearts, livers and skin. They can also be used to grow neurons to cure those who suffer from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or Rett Syndrome.
Others see cloning as a way to aid couples with infertility problems, with the conceived child being a carbon copy of the husband. The procedure would involve injecting cloned cells from an infertile male into an egg, which would be inserted into the wife’s uterus.
Another use for human cloning could be to bring deceased relatives back to life. One family could clone their deceased daughter or son or any another member using preserved skin cells.
But as in all things that look too good to be true, human cloning has lots of dangerous loopholes.
For all the good things cloning may accomplish, opponents say that it will do just as much harm.
The dangers posed by human cloning are such that, although there’s no federal law banning cloning in the United States, several states have passed their own laws to ban the practice. In Japan, human cloning is a crime that is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The United Kingdom has allowed cloning human embryos but is working to pass legislation to stop total human cloning.
Ian Wilmut, one of co-creators of Dolly, has even said that human cloning projects would be criminally irresponsible. Cloning technology is still in its early stages, and nearly 98 percent of cloning efforts end in failure. The embryos are either not suitable for implanting into the uterus or they die sometime during gestation or shortly after birth.
Those clones that do survive suffer from genetic abnormalities. Some clones have been born with defective hearts, lung problems, diabetes, blood vessel problems and malfunctioning immune systems.
With the latest development on human cloning, expect the debate on the issue to intensify.
(This graphic shows how the somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning process works.)