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Clone Warning

The news yesterday that researchers have developed a method to reprogram human skin cells to become embryonic stem cells should spur the US Government to ban reproductive cloning, the Center for Genetics and Society says.

When Oregon Health Sciences University announced that its scientists have successfully used nuclear transfer to make it possible for skin cells to become embryonic stem cells, an advance that could enable new therapies for a wide range of disorders and illnesses, the university noted that by bypassing the requirement for fertilized embryos this method avoids a "significant ethical debate."

But CGS sees this technology as posing a different ethical problem. The technique that OHSU used "raises concern because research cloning involves the same technique that would be the first step in reproductive cloning," the center says.

In the lab, cloned embryos are used to derive stem cells, but these cloned embryos also could be transferred back into the uterus for reproductive purposes.

Although some 60 countries have bans on human reproductive cloning and it has been prohibited by international agreements such as the Council of Europe's Convention on Biomedicine and Human Rights, the US has no such prohibition on human reproductive cloning, CGS says.

"This news should light a fire under US legislators and regulators," says Marcy Darnovsky, executive director for CGS. "It's high time for the United States to join the dozens of other countries that prohibit human reproductive cloning."

The method the OHSU team used is a variation on somatic stem cell transfer, but it transplants the nucleus of one cell into an egg cell that has had its genetic material removed. That unfertilized egg cell then develops and produces functionally normal embryonic stem cells that could become nerve cells, liver cells, heart cells, and others that could renew and repair damaged human tissues.

These cells could be used to treat diseases such as Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, cardiac disease, and spinal cord injury, among others.

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