Stem cell research fuels more debate on cloning

Karen Weintraub, Special for USA TODAY 5:42 p.m. EDT April 19, 2014

A sheep called Dolly, the world's first clone of an adult mammal, is seen in this undated photo. Dolly, was developed by a team of scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland. A study out this week reported success in cloning a human embryo using a technique similar to the one used to clone Dolly, who was cloned in 1996 and died in 2003.(Photo: AP)

A study published this week has reawakened debate over the government's need to regulate human cloning.

In a paper in the journal Cell Stem Cell, researchers took the nucleus of skin cells from 35 and 75 year old men, and produced cloned human embryos. From those they were able to generate embryonic stem cells, valued because they can then be teased into becoming any tissues the body might need.

The researchers are quick to point out that they would never try to implant that embryo in a woman. Instead, the cells will be used for research purposes with an eye toward developing medical therapies. The promise of stem cells has long been that they could be used to grow tissues the body needs to treat ailments ranging from Parkinson's to spinal cord injuries. Creating stem cells from a cloned embryo presumably would create tissues that wouldn't be rejected by the person who donated skin cells initially.

But advocacy groups on opposite ends of the political spectrum said Friday that the study is a reminder of the need for government to step in before someone tries to extend this technique to engineer a human clone.

Animal cloning has been possible since Dolly the sheep was born in 1996, but human cloning has long been considered nearly as impossible as it is unethical. The new paper, which builds on and confirms a study published last year using a similar technique, resolves technical hurdles along the path to human cloning.

"The science is no longer theoretical," said Jeremy Gruber, president of the Council for Responsible Genetics, a New York City-based bioethics organization. "We need to start putting laws into place to identify where the line should be drawn in terms of governance of these techniques."

Gruber's organization, along with the Berkeley, Calif.-based Center for Genetics and Society, both oppose the use of cloning for human reproduction, but support cloning for the purpose of creating embryonic stem cells to be used in research.

The Washington-based Family Research Council, a conservative think tank and lobbying group, opposes all cloning regardless of its purpose. A bill to that effect has been proposed by the current House, but not the Senate, said David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Family Research Council.

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Stem cell research fuels more debate on cloning

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