Scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland, who cloned Dolly the sheep, have confirmed their intention to apply for a license to derive cloned human embryo stem cells. Writing in New Scientist magazine last week, team leader Ian Wilmut says that he wants to clone cells from a patient with motor neuron disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease). He says this will allow scientists to better understand the causes of the condition, and perhaps provide an opportunity to test new therapies.
ALS is a progressive, incurable paralysis, caused by gradual damage to motor neurons: nerve cells in the brain and spine. Because of their location, it is impossible to study these cells to pinpoint the causes of ALS, says Wilmut, which is where cloning technology could help. Using SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer ), the technique used to clone Dolly the sheep, scientists could grow motor neuron cells from ALS patients to study in the laboratory.
Wilmut also said 'therapeutic cloning' - the use of SCNT to create genetically-matched cell therapies for a range of diseases - might also be possible one day. Another application of the technology, which he described as 'the most radical' could be to clone an embryo affected by genetic disease, so that the faulty gene could be corrected in the cloned version. Such a child would be a human clone, he said, but of a new individual, not one of its parents.
Wilmut's comments follow the recent announcement by a team of South Korean scientists, that they have managed to derive stem cells from a cloned human embryo. Their success has reignited debate over the regulation of human reproductive cloning, and Wilmut's article has attracted criticism. Donald Bruce, of the Church of Scotland, said it was 'highly controversial' to advocate the use of cloned human embryos in research, adding that he was 'shocked at the naivete of the suggestion to clone babies in the present climate of world opinion'.
Sources and References
The moral imperative for human cloning
'Dolly' scientist backs selective human cloning
Dolly creator changes tack and backs baby cloning