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Scientists create human stem cells by cloning for first time

The breakthrough is one of the most significant developments since Dolly the sheep – and could potentially be used to help diseases like Parkinson’s and MS.

The egg cell nucleus extracted and placed in a pipette
The egg cell nucleus extracted and placed in a pipette
Image: OHSU Photos via Flickr

SCIENTISTS HAVE SUCCESSFULLY reprogrammed human skin cells to become embryonic stem cells which are capable of making any tissue in the body for the first time.

The breakthrough is the one of the most significant developments in the area of cloning since the birth of Dolly the sheep seventeen years ago. Researchers around the world had been trying unsuccessfully to create human stem cells for years.

The cells could potentially be used to help diseases such as Parkinson’s, MS and spinal cord injuries, or to help replace cells damaged through injury.

“While there is much work to be done in developing safe and effective stem cell treatments, we believe this is a significant step forward in developing the cells that could be used in regenerative medicine,” said Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov  of the Oregon Health & Science University in the US.

The scientists pointed out that the research does not mean that human clones are likely in the near future, pointing out that while it may work for cloning cells, “the same method would not likely be successful in producing human clones, otherwise known as reproductive cloning”. Dr Mitalipov said:

While nuclear transfer breakthroughs often lead to a public discussion about the ethics of human cloning, this is not our focus, nor do we believe our findings might be used by others to advance the possibility of human reproductive cloning.

Researchers noted that they did not use fertilised embryos – a source of heated ethical debates – for the research. Instead, they transplanted the nucleus (which contains the DNA) of one cell into an egg cell that had had its genetic material removed. The unfertilised egg cell then developed and eventually produced stem cells.

The team at the university had previously run a number of unsuccessful studies involving both human and monkey cells. They said that their research had found that human egg cells are far more fragile than eggs from other species, which had made it more difficult to reprogramme the cells.

The use of cloning techniques to create tissues which could help to someday cure illnesses such as Parkinson’s or diabetes has sparked ethical debates over the past two decades, ever since the birth of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal in 1996.

The research will be published in the academic journal Cell today.
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(Video: OHSU Video/Vimeo)

Read: ‘Human brain cells in mice’ technique could help tackle Parkinson’s >

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