Dr Ian Wilmut, one of the scientists responsible for the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996 and now head of a new department of gene expression and development at Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, has announced plans to clone a human embryo for research purposes.
Wilmut, who says that he will seek permission for the research from the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) this summer, intends specifically to clone a cell from a human patient affected by a degenerative motor-neurone disease called Lou Gehrig's disease, a genetic condition also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). But he stressed that the intention behind the cloning procedure was not to implant the resulting embryo into a woman in order to produce a child, but to compare the cells of the cloned embryo with those taken from healthy donors. The aim of the experiment is to 'find out what goes wrong in the cells of people who develop this disease - and ultimately see if there is a way to put it right', said Wilmut.
Meanwhile, in continuing debates on human cloning for research purposes in the US, scientists, patient groups and politicians have called on President Bush to change his policies in order to allow advances in embryonic stem cell research. Currently in the US, federal funds are only available for research using stem cell lines created before 9 August 2001. Many stem cell researchers have claimed that their work is limited by the Bush administration's policy, and that stem cells created since that date are 'safer' and more useful for research, due to the use of new techniques in creating them. In a letter to the President, senator Arlen Specter, a known advocate of stem cell research and co-sponsor of one of the cloning bills currently being debated in the US, asked him to expand the federal funding policy so that 'doctors and scientists can use these safer new stem cell lines and realise the promise of stem cell research to cure diseases that affects millions of Americans'.