Korean scientists have pulled off the impressive next advance in stem cell and therapeutic cloning research, something that the combined US and European research communities could have accomplished several years ago, if not for the anti-research policies on both sides of the Atlantic. I commented on the research briefly at the Longevity Meme:
The Next Step in Therapeutic Cloning (Thursday February 12 2004)
As reported by Wired (and in numerous other places), Korean researchers have accomplished the next successful step in therapeutic cloning and stem cell medicine: reliably extracting stem cells from cloned human embryos. As the Wired article says, "a Korean woman now has a set of cells that could one day replace any damaged or diseased cell in her body with little worry of rejection, if researchers can get stem cells to work therapeutically." The scientists have even managed to create a new stem cell line from this work, which is very good news, given the limited number of lines currently available. A New York Times article provides a good introduction to the medical significance of this advance.
The Korean government has been showing its teeth on stem cell research of late, with a very American style political debate taking place over past years. We shall see what results in the political and legislative arena after this successful work; no doubt the anti-research forces will be lining up around the block to denounce this advance towards working regenerative medicine. On that note, it has to be said that I object to authors describing a small clump of cells as a "human clone." In my book, a human is someone you can converse with, who can think, feel pain, and suffer the effects of Alzheimer's or heart disease. An embryo has none of those characteristics. It is a pathology in modern society that there are so many people who are willing to kill or condemn millions to suffer and die rather than allow the use of small pieces of artificially created tissue to cure disease and save lives.
The ability to create cloned stem cells from your own tissues is an essential foundation for the first wave of medical technologies that can really extend the healthy human life span. If all age-related damage can be repaired, then healthy life span can be extended indefinitely...in theory. In practice, this process is likely to be costly, onerous, and complex. Think of the war on cancer, multiplied one thousand fold, an unending process of identifying and working to treat one condition after another. Something better must be found to prevent age-related conditions from occurring in the first place, to slow and eventually reverse the aging process. Regenerative medicine, in giving us the time to accomplish this, is an essential step on the path to indefinite healthy life spans.
With this in mind, it's good to anticipate spending a great deal of money on medicine in your later years. Plan accordingly.