Thursday, May 19, 2005
While all eyes have been turned to North Korea and the nuclear weapons that country may or may not have - South Korea has been working on developing something a little different. According to the New York Times, South Korea has advanced the process for future human cloning. The article states,
In what scientists say is a stunning leap forward, a team of South Korean researchers has developed a highly efficient recipe for producing human embryos by cloning and then extracting their stem cells.
Writing today in the journal Science, they report that they used their method to produce 11 human stem cells lines that are genetic matches of patients aged 2 to 56.
Previously, the same group, led by Dr. Woo Suk Hwang and Dr. Shin Yong Moon of Seoul National University, produced a single stem cell line from a cloned embryo, but the process was so onerous that scientists said it was not worth trying to repeat it, and some doubted the South Koreans' report was even correct. Now things have changed.
"It is a tremendous advance," said Dr. Leonard Zon, a stem cell researcher at Harvard Medical School and president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, who was not involved in the research.
The method, called therapeutic cloning, is one of the great hopes of the stem cell field. It produces stem cells, universal cells that are extracted from embryos, killing the embryos in the process, and, in theory, can be directed to grow into any of the body's cell types. And since the stem cells come from embryos that are clones of individuals, they should be exact genetic matches. Scientists want to obtain such stem cells from patients to study the origin of diseases and to develop replacement cells that would be identical to ones a patient has lost.
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But not everyone is excited.
Dr. Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, said in an e-mail message that "whatever its technical merit, this research is morally troubling: it creates human embryos solely for research, makes it much easier to produce cloned babies, and exploits women as egg donors not for their benefit. "
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops shares those concerns, said Richard Doerflinger, director of pro-life activities there. He added that he also worried that a cloned baby might be next.
"Up until now, people were beginning to wonder whether human cloning for any purpose was feasible at all," Mr. Doerflinger said. "This development makes it feasible enough to be a clear and present danger."
Yikes! I am not sure whether to be excited or scared by these developments. [bm]