Scientists clone human embryos

Scientists have successfully cloned 30 human embryos in an astonishing breakthrough. They believe their work could lead to a cure for diseases such as cancer and Parkinson's. But experts warned it could also open the door for the first cloned human baby.

Scientists from Seoul National University took genetic material from normal cells in women donors and combined it with their eggs. They grew embryos to a point at which stem cells - the body's "master cells" that can divide into any type of tissue in the body - developed. The embryos were then destroyed to harvest the stem cells. "These are the most advanced human embryo clones yet produced," said Professor Woo Suk Hwang, the doctor behind the research. But he said any attempt to create a cloned baby would be "crazy".

The breakthrough is the first time claims of a cloned human embryo have been backed up by a scientific evidence. A paper detailing the research will appear this week in the journal Science. However, anticloning campaigners in America have already condemned the research. It was described last night as "a move towards creating new human lives solely to destroy them in research," by a senior member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, reports &to=' target=_blank>This is London

Professor Woo Suk Hwang and colleagues created embryos that were the exact genetic copies of the women who donated the eggs and cells to make them. They produced 30 embryo clones that divided over several days to a stage where special cells known as embryonic stem cells could be extracted. The Koreans extracted embryonic stem cells from their embryos - "master" cells that can divide into virtually any of the body's tissues.

The team demonstrated the beginnings of this differentiation and saw it progress still further when the cells were transplanted into mice. Scientists have been struggling to clone monkeys. It is clear there are particular difficulties involved in making genetic copies of primates. The Korean research shows some of these technical hurdles can be overcome and those minded to produce cloned babies will attempt to use the new information to make children, informs &to=' target=_blank>BBC

Theoretically at least, they could be used to treat patients with a wide range of conditions including - to name but a few - Alzheimer’s disease, spinal injuries, diabetes and heart conditions. When so many patients could be cured of chronic and even degenerative disease, it is easy to see why this controversial technology is being driven forward at such a rapid pace, despite the moral and ethical concerns of experimenting with human embryos.

At least if we do accept that this research should go ahead, then we can regulate it and it will not be driven underground and left to rogue scientists. The potential of stem cell research to enrich people’s lives is enormous and cannot be ignored any more than the ethical concerns of cloning humans can be. But we have to accept the reality of the situation. The genie was almost certainly let out of the bottle the second that it was announced to the world that Dolly the Sheep had been cloned by scientists at the Roslin Institute just outside Edinburgh.

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