The Significance of Primate Therapeutic Cloning

I, and no doubt you folk as well, noted the press on the first verified success for therapeutic cloning (also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT) in primates. The research group produced totipotent embryonic stem cells from a starting point of the skin cells of rhesus macaques.

Monkey embryo cloned in major breakthrough

Reproductive biologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov, of the Oregon Health & Science University, and his colleagues reported in the online version of the journal Nature that they have cloned rhesus macaque embryos using DNA from skin cells taken from the ear of a 9-year-old male. The resulting stem cells grew into viable heart and nerve cells, among others.

"This is a giant step toward showing that human therapeutic cloning is possible," said Dr. Robert Lanza, who is trying to produce human embryonic stem cells at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., and was not involved in the research. "It proves once and for all that primate cloning is not impossible ... as many people had thought."

Work has begun to use the new technique to clone human embryos, although the process remains very inefficient. Even so, Mitalipov said, "I am quite sure that it will work in humans."

What is the signficance of this? Well, one has to look at what a source of your own totipotent stem cells can be used for:

Over the past 25 years, mouse embryonic stem cells have been used to create models for scores of human diseases, including cancer, heart disease, obesity, and Alzheimer's. Research discoveries based on these models has led to new drug development and therefore touched countless lives. ... I believe it is only a matter of time before human embryonic stem cells are used in drug development research and become the basis for important new cell therapies.

Producing tissue in specific states to analyze and learn from is just the start. Totipotent cells on tap form an important resource for complex tissue engineering: totipotent stem cells generated from your own cells will be used to produce replacement parts for age-damaged organs and systems in your body in the next few decades.

The bottom line is that increasing control over our cells is a broad highway to increasing control over our healthy life spans. All progress is very welcome.

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