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Stem Cells And Human Cloning

"Naked" Egg


In a previous article I wrote, Stem Cells: What And Why, I discussed the topic of regeneration as a reason for the enormous potential of stem cell research. Another is cloning. By cloning one usually thinks of an entire animal as in Dolly the sheep but that is not what I am referring to.Cloning was first thought about, and something most of us are familiar with, when it was realized that a clipping of a plant when replanted generates a full plant [sort of like regeneration]. Taking this a step further in 1958 F.C Steward cloned a carrot not from a clipping but from a single cell. This led to the research of Dr. John B. Gurdon who in 1962  developed a technique called nuclear transfer which is transferring the nucleus of another cell into an enucleated egg [egg with the nucleus removed or deactivated]. This technique is used today and the results of Gurdon’s experiment proved the process of differentiation of cells is reversible. Although his experiment wasn’t fully a success the experiment opened the door to further research. Next up was the cloning of a fish in 1963 then the “cloning” through in vitro fertilization of Louise Brown in 1978 who had her own child through a normal birth in 2006. In 1996 a sheep Dolly was cloned. The way Dolly was named is really comical showing that biologists are human too. The cell used for the nuclear transfer was taken from the mammary gland of the donor sheep. At the time the buxom Dolly Parton was famous so the name Dolly was chosen. Since then Dolly has had 6 lambs naturally. After 1996 and the success of Dolly, other large mammals were cloned successfully. In a case of real life imitating a movie in 2004 a woman in Texas paid 50,000 dollars to have her cat cloned so she became the first owner of a repet as seen in the 2000 movie The Sixth Day. Unfortunately the process of nuclear transfer is not exactly what one would call efficient [less than 5%] so it is doubtful to be used for human cloning.

Now we know what cloning is [somewhat] one would wonder what I meant since I said I wasn’t referring to full cloning. The mention of stem cells should give a hint. I am referring to cloning human cells only so research into disease can be done in a petri dish. That alone would save many unnecessary and invasive procedures. I am specifically talking about the many degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, diabetes, etc.

Human eggs are available from in vitro fertilizations. It is a fairly simple process to enucleate them by UV light or chemical processes. A nucleus that contains the damaged genetic code must be transferred into the egg and that can be removed from a skin cell from the patient [lots less invasive than exploratory surgery]. The nucleus from the skin cell is transfered into the egg and then the magic happens. The cell starts splitting until it forms a blastocyst with an inner cell mass which is what we are interested in. These stem cells are isolated and then the problem is how to direct their differentiation into the cells we want.

In humans as well as in all animals there are certain genes that must be turned on by certain signals that direct differentiation into the different cells. Taking a step back from humans to one of the biologist favorite lab animals, stem cells of the mouse were isolated and directed into forming neurons. They were injected into a chicken embryo after they were marked. After the birth the chicken was examined and it was found that the mouse neurons were controlling it’s muscles. Just think about what this ability to direct differentiation like this means to those researching Alzheimer’s and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Getting more specific [and returning to humans], what causes a stem cell from the endoderm to become a beta cell in the pancreas [one that produces insulin, we are talking diabetes]? To make this short, a correspondence has been found between blood vessels and the formation of beta cells. Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation so this had to be tested and it was tested of course in a petri dish. As was not a  surprise, the hunch turned out to be correct and the differentiation into beta cells now can be directed.

Unfortunately this type of research falls under the umbrella of human cloning. Therapeutic human cloning is pretty much legal worldwide and it is technically legal here in the “enlightened” USA. Here in the USA federal funding is prohibited for human cloning [reproductive or therapeutic] which rules out any institution that receives federal funding. The USA has not outright banned cloning so an institution that does not receive federal monies can do research. This is a direct result of religious “dislike” of stem cell research and human cloning. It is curious to note that the Church has no problem with twins being born yet those technically are clones. The problem they have was seen in my previous article. The Church would rather protect a blastocyst with 0.5-1.0% the cells of an ant brain than they would allow medical research that can save lives or greatly increase the quality of life for some people. Before one thinks this is just a problem of the Church, Islam is just as archaic as the Church on human cloning.

[tweetmeme source=”noreligionblog” only_single=false https://noreligionblog.wordpress.com/2010/03/05/stem-cells-and-human-cloning%5D



One Response

  1. Doing some research in this subject so thanks alot for this info! 🙂

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