10 years after the world learned about the cloning of Dolly the sheep, the scientist responsible for her birth announces that cloning is passe’.
Just after the announcement that a US lab has managed the first confirmed cloning of primate (monkeys, not human) embryos using adult cell donor DNA, Ian Wilmut made statements to the UK press that he’s abandoning the cloning track for research using something like Japan’s Yamanaka’s process of dedifferentiation or reprogrammed adult cells to produce stem cells. (He’s also selling the paperback version of his latest book.)
This approach, he says, represents, the future for stem cell research, rather than the nuclear transfer method that his large team used more than a decade ago at the Roslin Institute, near Edinburgh, to create Dolly.
Last year, at the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities Conference, the top ‘ethicists’ were nearly in a panic over these techniques. They evidently put pressure on Yamanaka to and criticize his own research. Then, 3 other labs proofed the technique and the Yamanaka’s lab advanced a step or two. Gearhart and Moreno were still scoffing last month, when they spoke at the National Academies of Sciences museum during the ASBH conference.
I’m afraid that too many labs and too many PhD candidates and sponsors have all their eggs in the cloning basket for the issue to fade decently. Talk about being left behind — all US research centers, such as the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine — will be negated if they insist on following the dead end trail of cloning and unethical destructive embryonic stem cell research.
The Yamanaka technique involves reprogramming adult fibroblasts – skin precursors – to a primitive, embryonic stem cell state. The stem cells are not quite ‘totipotent” from what we can tell — they aren’t capable of forming new embryos. But they are capable of forming “all the cells of the body,” at least with manipulation in the proper environment.
We’re going to hear more and more dispute about the “proper” name for the cells — disputes over whether they are actually stem cells. And a huge amount of discussion about the dangers from the viral transfection that is used to add the genes that turn on stemness.
We will be expected to forget that
1. No one has been able to clone a human embryo in spite of thousands of eggs used in Hwang’s scam alone,
2. That 13,000 monkey eggs were used in the latest attempt to clone primates, that the published study relates an efficiency of 0.7% success, and the authors aren’t quite sure why they were successful where other labs weren’t,
3. The fact that true embryonic stem cells are short lived in the body and difficult to control (reports actually criticized the embryonic like stem cells from dedifferentiation for making tumors in mice – although that is one of the properties that defines embryonic stem cells)
4. That transfection with plasmids and specialized virus particles is an established technique of gene therapy,
5. and that the production of stem cell lines toward the end-stage adult cells has used viral transfection as well.
Even though he spouts the proper mumbo jumbo about the “moral status of the human embryo” (and that a person is someone capable of valuing herself – with the gradual acquisition and loss connected with functional capability), don’t be surprised if Wilmut is, himself, negated and Watsoned because of his disloyalty to the cloning and embryo-destructive catechism. (James Watson’s non-PC comments from last month cost him his lab, although he’s been saying the same things for years.)
Now, if only the US, and especially the Texas, research Powers That Be will pay attention and learn.