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Human cloning moves closer to home

Sunday, November 8, 1998 Published at 18:20 GMT

Human cloning moves closer to home

Babies could be given their own body repair kit

Edinburgh researchers behind the cloning of Dolly the sheep are in talks to
develop ways of cloning human cells for transplant organs.  Scientists,
including researchers from the Roslin Institute where Dolly was created,
are planning to collaborate with their American counterparts on a
revolutionary "body repair kit".

"If and when they come to fruition we will be making an announcement but it
is too early at this stage. We are in discussion and we are exploring a
number of possibilities," Dr Harry Griffin, assistant director of science
at the Insititute, told BBC News Online.

But he would not confirm reports in a Sunday newspaper that one potential
partner is a team from the University of Wisconsin-Madison which announced
it had pinpointed embryonic "stem".

These undeveloped "parents" of all human tissues have the potential to
become any component of the body - blood, muscle, bone or brain cells. It
would eliminate the risk of rejection currently suffered by patients
receiving donor transplants.

The Roslin Institute's expertise in cloning, using a technique called
nuclear transfer, could be applied to "stem cell" research. Cloned cells
would provide a limitless supply for a transplant patient and therefore
avoid the need to give anti-rejection drugs.

Dr Griffin said: "Our particular contribution might allow those cells to be
derived from the patient - him or herself - thereby avoiding any
immunological problems, for example of rejection of the human cells by a
patient that recognises those cells as foreign."

Storing cells for the future

With this new discovery scientists believe they will be able to take tissue
from a new born baby and clone, freeze and store cells for transplant
operations should they be needed in the future.  Dr Griffin goes a step
further saying that adults too could benefit from having their own cells

"You should be able to take cells from adult cells as we did with Dolly as
well as store them from new-born children," he said.

But he downplayed the concept of manufacturing tissues and organs in the
lab.  "For diseases like leukaemia, cell therapy is almost routine. Tissues
are very much more complicated than a group of cells. When people talk
about creating artificial skin and artificial organs in the test tube, I
think this is definitely moving towards science fiction."

He added: "I think creating a heart in the laboratory is a pretty tall
order and I wouldn't personally have thought that it was possible."
Nevertheless, Dr Griffin was enthusiastic at the chance of transferring
Roslin's expertise with animal experimentation to the human being.

"Most of our applications that we have been pursuing were principally
concerned with the genetic modification of farm animals and the prospect of
contributing to a whole new area of medicine is certainly very exciting for

Watchdog listening to all sides

Current law demands that research on human embryos requires a licence from
the watchdog on embryo research in Britain, the Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Authority (HFEA).

It is due to publish preliminary findings of a consultation paper on human
cloning initiated by the Human Genetics Advisory Commission (HGAC).  In
collaboration with the Centre for Genome Research in Edinburgh, the Roslin
Institute's submission seeks to make a distinction between therapeutic and
reproductive cloning.

"Reproductive cloning means the cloning of a human being and we remain
implacably opposed to that," said Dr Griffin.  But any form of research on
human embryos - for whatever purpose - has generated alarm among groups
concerned about the ethics of tampering with cells from human embryos.

'A form of cannibalism'

Peter Garrret, research director for the anti-abortion charity Life, called
the new technology "a form of cannibalism".  He told BBC News Online: "One
could argue that 'therapeutic' cloning is even more repugnant than
pregnancy cloning. At least with pregnancy cloning you are creating a life,
you're not destroying anything."

Although he recognised the therapeutic values of a technology that could
treat diseases, he maintained that the embryo was "sacrosanct" and that
researchers should not be allowed to tamper with it.  "You should not
achieve this good objective by breaching other ethical issues."

Life has submitted its own view to the human cloning working group,
describing embryo research as "an attack upon our very humanity".  The US
Government, the World Health Organisation and the Council of Europe have
all called for a ban on the cloning of humans.

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