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Scientists Clone Monkey Embryos

from the November 13, 2007 eNews issue
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A team of scientists in Oregon claim they have successfully extracted stem cells from a cloned monkey embryo. Their findings have yet to be published, but if confirmed it will represent a breakthrough in stem cell research. The results of the research are significant, scientists believe, because of the biological similarities between humans and primates. They say we are now one step closer to cloning human embryos.

You may recall that in May of 2005 a South Korean scientist named Woo-Suk Hwang and his team announced that they had become the first in the world to successfully clone a human embryo for stem cell research. However it was later discovered that Hwang intentionally fabricated his research results. The high-profile scandal rocked the scientific world and Hwang eventually resigned his post in disgrace.

Many scientists believe that therapeutic cloning could be used to create human embryos from which stem cells can be extracted. The cells could then be used in medical treatments because they would be an exact genetic match to the patient. However reproductive cloning is expensive and highly inefficient. It can take several hundred attempts to produce one viable clone. Furthermore, the complex nature of cloning requires a high level of technical expertise and the cost of such a procedure would be enormous – too high for most patients.

Why All The Fuss?

Stem cells have the remarkable potential to develop into many different kinds of cells. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential to either remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell. That is why stem cells are often referred to as the "master cells" of the human body. That is also why they can be used to repair damaged tissue and treat diseases.

There are two basic types of stems cells: embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are extracted from fertilized eggs or embryos. When the stem cells are removed the embryo is destroyed, raising a variety of ethical concerns. Adult stem cells, however, can be safely extracted from various places in the human body, such as fatty tissue, blood, and bone marrow.

Many scientists believe that embryonic stem cell research will result in miracle cures to some of our most debilitating diseases, but scientists have yet to learn how to control and manipulate these powerful cells. In fact, in laboratory research using rodents, embryonic stem cells either caused tumors or were rejected by the host - which is why many scientists to look to therapeutic cloning as a source for compatible stem cells.

Money Well Spent?


The truth about embryonic stem cells is very different from the media hype. Billions of dollars have been invested in controversial embryonic stem cell research, however embryonic stem cells have yet to benefit a single patient. After 20 years of research, there are no approved treatments or human trials using embryonic stem cells. Furthermore, scientists admit that it could be another 20 years before embryonic stems cells can be used to effectively treat disease - if ever.

While embryonic stem cell potential remains theoretical, adult stem cell treatments are already being used to successfully treat many diseases. The use of adult stem cells in research and therapy is not as controversial as embryonic stem cells, because the production of adult stem cells does not require the destruction of an embryo. Adult stem cells also pose little or no medical danger to the patient - because the cells come from the patient's own body there is no risk of transplant rejection or tumors. Among the stunning advancements in adult stem cell therapy are treatments for various types of cancer, leukemia, arthritis, anemia, liver and cardiovascular diseases, Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and even age-related macular degeneration (one of the leading causes of blindness).

Adult stem cells have literally enabled the lame to walk and the blind to see, while embryonic stem cells have yet to treat a single disease. Despite this fact, advocates of cloning and embryonic stem cell research among the press, the public, and the scientific community remain resolute. It would seem that the battle over stem cell research has become more about politics and prejudice than scientific fact.

Related Links:

  •   Scientists Claim to Clone Monkey Embryos - MSNBC
  •   The Hwang Fiasco - eNews Archives
  •   Harvard to Clone Human Embryos - eNews Archives
  •   Biotech - MP3 Download - Koinonia House
  •   Biotech - DVD - Koinonia House