Cloning without embryonic stem cells. Does this end the embryonic stem cell debate?

The story broke on NBC Nightly News on July 23, when Brian Williams reported that there is a mouse in China that goes by the name Tiny. What make Tiny so special is that he And “26 others unique is that researchers cloned him – not from embryonic stem cells, but from another mouse’s skin cells.” Adult stem cells!

More Information:

LifeNews.com reports, “In an advancement that could one day applies to humans and further reduce the need for embryonic stem cell research, scientists in China have created mice from reverted adult stem cells without having to destroy an embryo to obtain stem cells to use to create the mouse.”

Stem cell transplant expert Dr. George Daly, of Children’s Hospital in Boston told NBC Nightly News it was, “a major breakthrough,” saying that “the real promise is that we could make any tissue that [a] patient might need. Yes, it could be blood cells. It could be brain cells.”

In other words, scientists could use a “patient’s own cells to grow new human organ tissue, damaged by Parkinson’s disease, even spinal cord injuries, all the while bypassing the ethical dilemma of using human embryonic stem cells.”

However, the “advance poses fresh ethical challenges,” however, “because the results could make it easier to create human clones and babies with specific genetic traits,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Nonetheless, the “latest findings are a bit of a surprise, given that Chinese scientists’ contribution to lab-based stem-cell research has been modest over the years,” even though the nation is “known for its growing trade in unproven stem-cell therapies that have attracted patients from around the world.”

Since “reprogramming has become the hottest area of stem-cell science,” Chinese labs have taken note.

In fact, two teams of scientists described their use of a technique called tetraploid complementation in separate papers published online in Nature and Cell Stem Cell, the Washington Post reports.

The researchers “used viruses to flip genetic switches in the DNA of skin cells from adult mice to turn them into” induced pluripotent stem (iPS) “cells in the laboratory.”

Then, they “injected some of the iPS cells into very early embryos that are capable of forming a placenta, but not of fully developing on their own.”

Next, the “resulting embryos were . . . transferred into the wombs of surrogate mice.”

The team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences was eventually able to create “37 iPS cell lines, three of which produced 27 live offspring, the first of which they named Tiny.”

Although “some of the mice . . . had ‘abnormalities,'” the AP reports, they were able to produce “second and third generations that included hundreds of mice with no noticeable abnormalities.”

The second team at the Beijing-based National Institute of Biological Sciences “created five iPS cell lines,” and one produced embryos. Only “four births” occurred, however:

“Three died quickly, and only one made it into normal adulthood.”

The authors conceded that the “process isn’t very efficient; many attempts were needed to get stem cell generated births.”

Still, despite that the “details of the experiments’ success are not yet understood, the findings give scientists more confidence in the power of iPS cells,” Time noted.

“There have been lingering doubts about whether the cells are truly identical to embryonic cells or instead are capable of producing only some types of body cells,” according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The “new results,” however, “appear to erase those doubts,” and may even “open the door to a variety of applications beyond producing stem cells for medicinal purposes, including the production of endangered species and the reproduction of prized farm and other animals.”

So, there’s potential good news and bad news in this story.

The good news is that this, it seems to me, is the potential death knell of ethically bankrupt embryonic stem cell research in humans.

The bad news is that this technology could conceivably be used to clone human beings for nefarious reasons.

“Some offspring were 95-percent genetically identical to the adult mouse whose skin cells had been reprogrammed, which may lead to near-clones or clones as the technique gets refined,” LifeNews.com reports.

Therefore, “the concern is also that researchers could create chimeras – where a person who shares genes from two different people without the use of natural reproduction.”

However, according to the LA TImes story, “both teams . . . argued that it would be unethical to attempt the technique with human cells.”

We’ll see . . .

Reuters (http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUST264488), and WebMD (http://www.webmd.com/news/20090723/mice-made-from-mouse-skin-cells) also covered the story, as did USA Today (http://blogs.usatoday.com/sciencefair/2009/07/studies-bolster-stem-cells-from-skin.html) in its Science Fair blog.

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