Breakthrough in human cloning raises hopes for treatment of Parkinson's and heart disease

News could lead to tissue-transplant operations for range of debilitating disorders, also including MS and spinal cord injuries

Scientists have finally made the long-awaited breakthrough in human cloning by turning skin cells into early-stage embryos that were then used to create specialised tissue cells for transplant operations, it has been revealed today.

For the first time, researchers have unequivocally created human embryonic stem cells using the cloning technique that led to the birth of Dolly the sheep. However, unlike Dolly, the human embryos were destroyed when their stem cells were extracted.

The scientific milestone, which comes 17 years after the birth of Dolly, represents a major turning point in human cloning research which could now lead to new tissue-transplant operations for a range of debilitating disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and spinal cord injuries.

However, the breakthrough will also raise serious ethical concerns about the creation of human embryos for medical purposes and the possible use of the same technique to produce IVF embryos for couples wanting their own cloned babies - which is currently illegal in the UK.

The scientists who made the advance emphasised that the work is designed to produce replacement tissue for transplant operations from a patient's own skin cells, rather than to improve the chances of so-called “reproductive cloning”. However, other scientists said the achievement inevitably brings the prospect of cloned babies a step nearer.

Generating a plentiful supply of embryonic stem cells from a patient's own skin cells has been one of the holy grails of medical science. Although the procedure has been achieved in laboratory animals - such as mice and monkeys - it has until now alluded several attempts on human material.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who led the research team at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, said that he added caffeine to his cell cultures to create viable embryonic stem cells from just a small number of human eggs.

“It was thought that to make [it] work many thousands of human eggs would be needed. We were able to produce one embryonic stem cell line using just two human eggs which would make this approach practical for widespread therapeutic use,” Dr Mitalipov said.

“Our finding offers new ways of generating stem cells for patients with dysfunctional or damaged tissues or organs. Such stem cells can regenerate and replace those damaged cells and tissues and alleviate diseases that affect millions of people,” he said.

In 2004, scientists led by the disgraced Woo Suk Hwang of Seoul National University claimed to have produced the first cloned human embryos, and later said they had extracted embryonic stem cells, but they were forced to retract the research after a scandal over fraudulent results and unethical practices.

Other researchers also claimed to have produced cloned human embryos but none had been able to show definitively that they could generate plentiful supplies of embryonic stem cells that could be converted in the laboratory into fully specialised tissue cells, such as beating heart muscle.

Dr Mitalipov made important technical advances that enabled the cloned human embryos to survive to the 150-cell stage, known as a blastocyst, when embryonic stem cells can be extracted for growing in the laboratory into specialised tissue cells, such as nerve cells or cardiac muscle.

“A thorough examination of the stem cells derived through this technique demonstrated their ability to convert just like normal embryonic stem cells, into several different cell types, including nerve cells, liver cells and heart cells,” Dr Mitalipov said.

“Furthermore, because these reprogrammed cells can be generated with nuclear genetic material from a patient, there is no concern of transplant rejection. While there is much work to be done in developing safe and effective stem-cell treatments, we believe this is a significant step forward in developing cells that could be used in regenerative medicine,” he said.

The research was directly aimed at generating embryonic stem cells for treating serious disorders from a patient's skin cells, and not at improving the chances of producing cloned babies, Dr Mitalipov said.

“This is not our focus, nor do we believe our findings might be used by others to advance the possibility of human reproductive cloning,” he said.

However, David King director of the pressure group Human Genetics Alert, said: “Scientists have finally delivered the baby that would-be human cloners have been waiting for: a method for reliably creating cloned human embryos. This makes it imperative that we create an international legal ban on human cloning before any more research like this takes place.  It is irresponsible in the extreme to have published this research.”

Paul De Sousa of Edinburgh University said the breakthrough means a technique that was once considered impractical could now be used to generate plentiful supplies of human embryonic stem cells for future transplant operations.

“They have shown it to be a very efficient procedure based on a relatively small number of eggs. It indicates that the procedure is clinically transferable. It's an important step,” Dr De Sousa said.

Professor Mary Herbert of Newcastle University, said: “Provided that the experiments are reproducible in the hands of others, the findings offer the potential to accelerate progress towards the development of patient-specific embryonic stem cells to treat a range of degenerative diseases.”

The study is published in the journal Cell.

 

Watch videos on the steam research below:

Animation of stem cell reprogramming process

Animation of stem cell reprogramming process from OHSU Video on Vimeo.

 

Beating heart cells

Video of beating heart cells from stem cells derived from skin cells from OHSU Video on Vimeo.

 

Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov explains the research

Sound bites from Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph.D. from OHSU Video on Vimeo.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

    £16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

    Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager

    £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Freight Forward Senior Operator

    £22000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This logistics firm are looking...

    Day In a Page

    Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

    Making of a killer

    What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
    UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

    Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

    Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
    Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

    Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
    Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

    No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

    Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
    Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

    Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

    The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
    Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

    Something wicked?

    Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
    10 best sun creams for body

    10 best sun creams for body

    Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

    Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
    Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

    There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

    The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map