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Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 10:13 GMT 11:13 UK
Dolly creators back limited human cloning
embryo
Scientists claim human embryo cloning will bring medical benefits
The scientists who created Dolly the sheep have renewed their call for the UK Government to allow limited research into human cloning.

They believe this will help them learn how to reprogram human tissue so that it can be used in transplant operations.

An expert committee that has been looking into the merits of some of the new cell technologies is due to report its findings in the next few weeks.

If it recommends that so-called therapeutic cloning be allowed, and the government accepts that advice, current legislation covering experiments on early-stage embryos will need to be amended.

Medical revolution

Last Thursday, the influential Nuffield Council on Bioethics said limited cloning work could herald a revolution in healthcare and strongly urged the advisory committee, led by the chief medical officer for England Dr Liam Donaldson, to support the science.

Now, researchers at Geron Bio-Med, a commercial offshoot of the Roslin Insitute, have made clear again their strong feelings on the subject.
stem cell
Stem cells can develop into any specialised cell
"What we have in mind is to use this technology to produce cells to treat diseases like diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's," said Professor Ian Wilmut, who led the team that cloned Dolly the sheep.

Therapeutic cloning does not create whole-body copies of human beings. Its purpose is to create early-stage embryos from which stem cells can be harvested.

These "master" cells have the potential to develop into any kind of tissue - bone, blood, nerve, muscle, etc. Scientists believe that if they can control the way these special cells develop, they can grow any type of tissue needed for transplant.

And being genetically identical to the donor, the new cells would not be rejected after implantation.

Cell reprogramming

Geron Bio-Med is also working on ways in which normal adult cells might simply be reprogrammed. A skin cell, for example, might be encouraged to change itself into a bone marrow cell to treat a leukaemia sufferer.

This would mean early-stage embryos would not be needed at all and would satisfy many of the ethical objections to the proposed research. But to get to this stage, Geron Bio-Med says it needs to do the embryo work to understand the complex chemical signals that control the way cells develop.

"An embryo is special," said Professor Wilmut. "It deserves a unique consideration and it is important to consider what one would do with it.

"In this particular case, almost all of the research will be with cells and embryos from animals, but at some point, before you can think of using new treatments on human patients, you do need to do some experiments with human embryos."

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See also:

06 Apr 00 | Health
Experts back embryo research
06 Apr 00 | Health
Embryo cloning: head to head
24 Jun 99 | Sci/Tech
Human cloning ban condemned
17 Dec 99 | Sci/Tech
Stem cells top class of 1999