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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Head-to-head: Human cloning
A stem cell scientist and an anti-cloning pressure group debate whether it is ethical to clone human embryos.

Professor Alison Murdoch's Stem Cell Group hopes to use stem cells from embryos to treat diabetes, but Dr David King of Human Genetics Alert opposes this.

Professor Alison Murdoch, of the Newcastle Fertility Centre

We're trying to create material that would be genetically identical to the person that needs treatment.

Let me just describe to you what the potential benefits are.

If you've got, say, a 10-year-old child in Newcastle who has diabetes now, the likelihood is he's going to have to take insulin for the rest of his life.

Maybe in 10 years' time, when we get these technologies working, we can take a skin cell from him, and actually make some cells that are going to make insulin for that child.

We can't take stem cells from anybody else and make insulin-secreting cells for him, because they would be rejected.

Reproductive cloning is banned in the UK and in many other countries, so it's not something we're trying to do.

Yes, we are using the same sort of techniques - the embryologists in the fertility centre in Newcastle can help couples to achieve pregnancy, but we're using that scientific knowledge to create cures for serious diseases.

So although the science is the same, the goals are different.

The issue of whether we should do therapeutic cloning or not was discussed at great length by the select committee from the House of Lords, led by the Bishop of Oxford.

It considered all the different issues and came to the conclusion that this sort of work was appropriate and we ought to be doing it in the UK.

It's a first for the UK and we should be very proud of it.

This is one of the most exciting areas of medical development in recent years - it is such a simple idea.

There is an awful lot of work to do yet before we get to the point of treatment, and realistically we're looking at five or 10 years before we could even begin to think about having cures available.

But we have to start somewhere, and this is so promising that we can't afford not to let it happen.

Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert

Firstly, if they develop the technology for cloning human embryos, it's a present for those people who want to clone babies.

Research gets published on the internet and it can be used in a country that doesn't have legislation.

The second thing is that I think it does cross an important ethical line because they're creating embryos purely for the purpose of research.

I'm not a pro-lifer - I don't believe that embryos have a right to life - but at the same time, to create them purely as a tool for research, does seem to demean the moral status of embryos, which the UK law is based on.

I don't have a problem with the use of surplus embryos in order to create embryonic stem cells - what I do have a problem with is cloning.

I think scientists will see that this is a dead end - they're never going to be able to apply this on any scale at all in medicine.

The idea that it's round the corner is pie in the sky - scientists have got at least 10 years of work to do if they're ever going to succeed with this.

It's possible that there are alternative ways of making the material that you would get from these embryos compatible with the patient.

That is what the cloning aspect is there for - to make sure that it is genetically the same as the patient, in order that it won't be rejected by the immune system.

There are other ways of doing that.

All the companies that are trying to apply embryonic stem cell technology are looking at these alternative methods because they can see very well that the use of cloning to do this is never going to work.

It's never going to be commercially viable for them.

The BBC's Pallab Ghosh
"Critics say it's wrong to create an embryo for the sole purpose of growing it into body parts"

Human embryo cloning considered
16 Jun 04 |  Health
Q&A: Therapeutic cloning
21 Apr 04 |  Health
Scientists clone 30 human embryos
12 Feb 04 |  Science/Nature
The cloning milestones
12 Feb 04 |  Health

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