A group of scientists at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) — a Research!America member — recently announced that it had successfully generated cloned embryonic stem cells from skin cells of an adult and an unfertilized human egg. Like other stem cell technologies, these cloned stem cells may one day be used for therapeutic purposes — replacing failed organs or damaged nerves.
Research into this area had been ongoing for several years; until now, scientists’ efforts were unsuccessful.
The technique used by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, PhD, and colleagues is one called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). In the past, scientists have failed to drive these hybrid cells to replicate themselves and make stem cells. The OHSU team was able to move beyond this dead-end and isolate stem cells that are genetically identical to the donor skin cell. While the scientific community is celebrating this advance, there is uncertainty that this improved SCNT technique will lead to a useful source of stem cells for therapeutic purposes.
“I think part of the significance is technical and part of the significance is historical,” John Gearhart, PhD, head of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Washington Post. “Many labs attempted it, and no one had ever been able to achieve it.”
This research is likely to reignite the still emotionally and politically charged discussion of human reproductive cloning. Congress has repeatedly tried to pass legislation banning human cloning. While the legislation may have been be mired in the ethical and religious issues, there is some federal regulation in place when it comes to the topic of applying these technologies to medical treatment. All new medical treatments must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Former President George W. Bush permitted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) only if the stem cells were obtained from a limited number of previously existing stem cell lines. In 2009, President Barack Obama issued an executive order expanding the opportunities for federally funded ESCR by permitting the use of embryonic stem cells other than those obtained from the previously designated stem cell lines. Learn more about current stem cell research policy and the science behind stem cells on our website.