Tuesday, April 1. 2014
While it is April Fool's Day, this is for real. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, the Orgeon scientist that last year used somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) better known as therapeutic cloning to clone human embryos AND created human embryos with three-genetic parents, has new research published in Nature that has not gotten a lot of attention, but we should be aware of it none-the-less.
Mitalipov and his team have cloned mice. So what you say? Researchers have been cloning mice for years. This is different because instead of using eggs to clone those mice like in traditional SCNT, Oregon scientists used 2-celled mouse embryos. Contained in the egg are factors that can reprogram the nucleus of an adult cell and create a new organism with the same genetic make-up; what we know as cloning. It was thought that after an egg is fertilized and the resulting embryo divides, the embryo no longer had that same reprogramming abilities as the egg. Mitalipov has shown that at the 2-celled stage of the embryo those factors are still present.
From the Oregon Health and Science University website:
An Oregon Health & Science University scientist has been able to make embryonic stem cells from adult mouse body cells using the cytoplasm of two-cell embryos that were in the "interphase" stage of the cell cycle. Scientists had previously thought the interphase stage — a later stage of the cell cycle — was incapable of converting transplanted adult cell nuclei into embryonic stem cells.Why is this important? Human eggs are hard to come by making human cloning using eggs expensive and difficult. As quoted above, embryos on the other hand are "more accessible" making human cloning with existing human embryos more doable.
Mitalipov and his team will move on from mice and try this technique in monkeys and then in humans. The goal has always been to perfect human cloning for the research and, in my opinion, for reproduction.
BioEdge comments on the ethics of this research:
Embryos will be far cheaper as a raw material for research than eggs – but also far more controversial ethically.That is why this announcement is important. If Mitalipov is successful using this technique to clone human embryos for research (and he has been successful with his other research on embryos so far), two embryos will be sacrificed in the cloning process instead of just one. It is doubly evil.
And considering that cloning is not necessary anymore for obtaining patient-specific stem cells it is even more insidious. Induced pluripotent stem cell technology can create patient-specific pluripotent stem cells without creating or destroying one embryo, let alone two.
Wednesday, August 21. 2013
Back in May I wrote a piece for LifeNews on H.R. 2164, Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2012. This proposed legislation would ban all somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) in humans. The point I wanted to make was that many times "cloning bans" do not actually ban the cloning of human embryos; they just ban the transfer of those cloned embryos to a womb for gestation. I highlighted that H.R. 2164 would actually ban all SCNT in humans for both reproductive and research purposes and urged pro-lifers to support it.
Dr. Dianne Irving at LifeIssues.net took me to task for that piece. She has some good points. Her issue with H.R. 2164 is that it only bans SCNT when there are other ways to produced humans asexually. (Asexually means reproduction without the union of sperm and egg producing a genetically identical organism.) Dr. Irving writes:
The Taylor article itself, as well as the proposed bill, define "human cloning" only in terms of one kind of human cloning technique -- somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) -- a form of cloning, by the way, that most researchers have long abandoned because of the scientific problems involved. Instead they have been and will continue to do research using dozens of other different kinds of cloning -- none of which will be banned by this bill, all of which can be used both for destructive research purposes as well as for reproductive purposes.She is right. There are many other ways to asexually produce human embryos besides SCNT.
In hindsight, I should have mentioned that the legislation proposed is incomplete and only a step in the right direction. I struggle with keeping posts informative without being overwhelming for the average reader. I truly just wanted to get readers to be aware of the fine print in cloning bills.
I saw the support of a ban on SCNT, even though it is not comprehensive, just like I do a ban on late term abortions, or abortions based on sex or gender. Such legislation is not ideal, but a step in the right direction. Once a ban on one type of asexual reproduction in humans is passed, I felt it would likely be easier to implement more. Not ideal of course, but progress.
In private correspondence, Dr. Irving responded that she holds this is not a case of incrementalism. To legally define human cloning as just SCNT is problematic. To which she wrote:
...to formally define "cloning" per se as only SCNT in a legal document is to create a legal loophole for other kinds of cloning to continue.She has an excellent point that I had not considered. Will legislation that legally defines human cloning as SCNT only give a green light to other types of human cloning? This is an important question to consider when reading and deciding on human cloning "bans."
So besides checking to see if a cloning ban only bans a transfer of cloned embryos for reproductive purposes, we should also look carefully at the procedures defined as cloning. Are they sufficient to gain our support?
Clearly, the best legislation would ban any and all means of asexual reproduction in humans. Short of that, a pro-lifer must decide whether to support a human cloning ban with a limited definition of human cloning or not because such legislation may cause more problems in the long run by allowing other forms of human cloning to continue.
Wednesday, July 31. 2013
One of my friends, who doesn't really follow the biotech scene, said to me one time, "When you tell me to worry about it, I will worry about it." I replied, "Worry. Now."
Human cloning is not coming. It is already here. It is time to stop pretending that this is a problem for our children and grandchildren. This is our issue to tackle.
In the latest episode of BioTalk, Chelsea and I discuss the realities of human cloning and what we can do to stop it.
Thursday, June 20. 2013
Unlike many other countries, the United States has no federal restrictions on cloning. Scientists can clone human embryos as much as they want, provided they have the human eggs to do it, and in many states they could transfer those embryos to a female volunteer if they wanted.
The only thing that we have in the U.S. are funding restrictions. The very important Dickey-Wicker Amendment, a rider on the Omnibus Appropriations Act, prohibits any federal funding from going to research where human embryos are created or destroyed. This means that the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a major source of funding for research in this country, cannot fund cloning research.
So the researchers in Oregon who where the first to successfully clone multiple embryos and extract embryonic stem cell lines did so with funds not provided by you, the American taxpayer.
While an outright ban on all somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) or other means of asexual reproduction in humans is preferred, those funding restrictions are the finger in the dike, preventing many other researchers who depend on federal funds from trying to replicate the "breakthrough" or even from examining the stem cell lines created by cloning and killing human embryos.
Continue reading at Creative Minority Report >>
Friday, May 31. 2013
Congressman Andy Harris (R-MD) has reintroduced a true ban on human cloning to the U.S. Congress. H.R. 2164, Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2012, would ban human cloning all over the U.S. This is actually a remarkable bill. Why? Because most other “bans on human cloning” do nothing of the sort.
I have always told my readers to beware of bans on human cloning. A lot of legislation that claims to ban human cloning does not actually ban human cloning. These laws just redefine cloning so that the cloning of human embryos for research can continue.
Somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT is the scientific name for cloning. With SCNT, scientists create cloned embryos using a cell like a skin cell and an egg. SCNT was the process used to create Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned using an adult mammary cell.
SCNT is cloning, but if you read the fine print of many a law that says it “bans human cloning” often SCNT in humans is NOT banned. Instead these phony bans allow researchers to continue using SCNT to clone as many embryos as they want. The phony “ban on human cloning” then just prohibits the transfer of those cloned embryos to a woman. The cloning of human embryos is still allowed; it is the attempt at pregnancy that is banned. These phony cloning bans are especially insidious because they require the destruction of the human embryos created with SCNT.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Wednesday, May 29. 2013
The scientific community seems to me to be obsessed with cloning. Even with induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology making cloning embryos for stem cell harvesting look like taking the long way around, they still are pursuing somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) the scientific name for cloning.
The announcement that a team in Oregon had successfully created embryos with SCNT (with eggs "donated" from young cash-stripped co-eds) and had extracted stem cells from these embryos (destroying them in the process) was news all over the world.
The findings were published in the journal Cell with unprecedented speed: accepted in 3 days, published in 12. As if it was the breakthrough everyone had been waiting for and Cell was going to speed up the normal review process to let the world know about it. Even though patient-specific pluripotent stem cells had already been created a hundred times over with iPSC technology, cloning had now arrived and the data just couldn't wait. How very nonobjective.
Now it seems some minor errors have been found, highlighting the crazy rush to publish. From Nature:
How fast is too fast for review of a scientific article? And who has the responsibility to ensure accuracy? Errors found in a widely acclaimed cloning study have rekindled those questions — and sent the lead author and the journal that published it scrambling to assure the world that the problems did not compromise the findings.No one is claiming that the cloning was fraudulent as it was in the case of Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk of South Korea, but this certainly does feel like deja-vu.
Cloning seems to bring the frenzy. I really don't think if it was just about stem cells that would be the case. I think the fact that these scientists created cloned embryos that grew long enough to extract stem cells (and may have continued to develop if they had not been destroyed) is the real news. That is what is truly garnering all the attention and is the reason why Cell rushed the paper.
It is time to realize that cloning is not about stem cells. It has always been an incremental push to reproductive cloning. A fact that has not gone noticed before. "Experts" in this Wired News article have called it "inevitable" as did George W. Bush who understood the implications of cloning embryos for research. In 2002, he said:
"Anything other than a total ban on human cloning would be virtually impossible to enforce. Cloned human embryos created for research would be widely available in laboratories and embryo farms. Once cloned embryos were available, implantation would take place. Even the tightest regulations and strict policing would not prevent or detect the birth of cloned babies."I think that is the plan, Mr. President. I think that is the plan.
Wednesday, May 15. 2013
Once induced pluripotent stem cells hit the scene, human cloning slowly faded away. Why clone embryos with human eggs (exploiting women in the process) to get "patient-specific" embryonic stem cells when you can just take an adult cell and reprogram it back to an embryonic-like state? No eggs, no cloning, no creating and destroying embryos.
But I knew cloning was just hiding in the shadows waiting to resurface. Scientists are still trying to achieve this "holy grail" of human biology: the creation of human clones. Ones that will generate embryonic stem cells.
A team of scientists, including a fertility specialist (meaning IVF doc) from Japan, has done it. Not in some underground lab in China, but in the good old USA. Oregon to be exact. Nature has the story:
A paper published this week by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a reproductive biology specialist at the Oregon Health and Science University in Beaverton, and his colleagues is sure to rekindle that debate. Mitalipov and his team have finally created patient-specific ESCs through cloning, and they are keen to prove that the technology is worth pursuing....Let us be clear where Nature is not. These researchers did not create "cells" they created embryos which where then destroyed for embryonic stem cells.
Nature also says these cells are "perfectly matched" to the person who donated the adult cell that provided the nucleus for the somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT. (For a refresher on SCNT click here.) Embryonic stem cells from a cloned embryos cannot be "perfectly matched" because there is DNA leftover from the woman who donated the egg. (The only way the ESCs created would be "perfectly matched" is if a young woman provided the eggs to create her own clone.)
Speaking of young women, did you noticed where the supply of eggs needed for these experiments came from? Young, cash-strapped, college students enticed by the $3,000-7,000 compensation. I wonder how many of these young women experienced complications from their "donation." I wonder of any will lose their own fertility as some egg donors have.
I wonder also why, with iPSC technology, anyone is even pursuing SCNT anymore. I am not alone:
Still, Daley and most other stem-cell researchers have shifted to another method for creating genetically matched, patient-specific cell lines: reprogramming adult cells to an embryonic state to produce induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. First reported in 2006, the technique does not involve eggs, cloning or destruction of embryos. “Honestly, the most surprising thing [about this paper] is that somebody is still doing human [SCNT] in the era of iPS cells,” says Miodrag Stojkovic, who studies iPS cells for regenerative medicine and runs a fertility clinic in Leskovac, Serbia.Actually, I don't wonder. I have always thought that stem cells were a red herring. I see the end game to be reproductive cloning, or cloning-to-produce children.
Nature reports that Tachibana will publish why reproductive cloning is not possible. I would love to see that. Until today it seemed cloning for research was also "impossible." Unless the United States gets some federal legislation that bans SCNT in humans, we might just find out if reproductive cloning is in fact impossible or not.
Wednesday, December 19. 2012
Those of us who could read between the lines have always known that so-called therapeutic cloning, the creation and cloned human embryos with somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and their subsequent destruction for stem cells, has always ultimately been about reproductive cloning, or cloning-to-produce children.
How do we know this? Well first, SCNT is the same technique that was used to create Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, and the countless other mammals that have been cloned since. Once scientists perfected SCNT in humans under the guise of "stem cell research" it was only a matter of time before the same technique was being offered on the menu at your local fertility clinic. President George W. Bush was right when he warned:
"Anything other than a total ban on human cloning would be virtually impossible to enforce. Cloned human embryos created for research would be widely available in laboratories and embryo farms. Once cloned embryos were available, implantation would take place. Even the tightest regulations and strict policing would not prevent or detect the birth of cloned babies."Second, if you paid close attention to the race to clone embryos for stem cells, you would have noticed that fertility docs were moonlighting in the cloning lab. Dr. Samuel H. Wood is a fertility specialist. His web page at the San Diego Reproductive Sciences Center says their facilities are "where babies come from" and yet at the bottom of Dr. Wood's list of publications is his paper on cloning human embryos. [French AJ, Adams CA, Anderson LS, Kitchen JR, Hughes MR, Wood SH. Development of Human cloned Blastocysts Following Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) with Adult Fibroblasts. Stem Cells. 2008 Jan 17]
IVF pioneer Robert Edwards is also in favor of cloning-to-produce children. He sees a similarity between IVF in the early days and cloning and believes cloning to help infertile couples have a child is a "clinical imperative."
Now that induced pluripotent stem cell technology (iPSCs) has replaced therapeutic cloning as the method to get patient-specific stem cells, talk about cloning should have disappeared. That is if cloning really was about the stem cells.
Continue reading at LifeNews >>
Monday, March 5. 2012
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have announced they have found stem cells in ovaries that may be able to generate egg cells. It was previously thought that women are born with all the eggs they will ever have in a lifetime. But this research suggests that more eggs can be made by extracting these stem cells from ovaries.
The scientists first found these stem cells in mice and were able to generate mouse eggs. They then turned to ovaries donated by Japanese women undergoing a sex-change. The reproductive stem cells were isolated and coaxed to differentiate into follicles and mature eggs. From the New York Times:
The new research, by a team led by the biologist Jonathan L. Tilly, depends on a special protein found to mark the surface of reproductive cells like eggs and sperm. Using a cell-sorting machine that can separate out the marked cells, the team obtained reproductive cells from mouse ovaries and showed that the cells would generate viable egg cells that could be fertilized and produce embryos.
This discovery is being hailed as a game-changer for the fertility industry where eggs are a hot commodity. The specter of a greater supply has everyone talking.
Saturday, December 17. 2011
The moral conscience of health care providers is under attack. Increasingly they are being forced to provide medical services that go against their moral beliefs. Wesley J. Smith has a great piece in the Daily Caller on how laws all over the world are making it harder for medical professionals to opt out of procedures that go against their moral code. Smith focuses on Australia where where all doctors are required to perform abortions or refer to a doctor who will and The Netherlands where there is a push to require doctors to comply with requests for assisted suicide, and Washington state where pharmacists are required to dispense the morning after pill. Smith writes:
It is becoming increasingly clear that medical professionals who wish to continue in the Hippocratic tradition will face increasing pressure to yield their consciences to the desires of patients and the reigning moral cultural paradigm.
Progressives likely cheer erosions of conscience protections for health care providers because emergency contraception, abortion and assisted suicide are issues they champion. But I want to look farther into the future to see how a lack of conscience clauses will affect the medical profession.When cloning becomes a reality, there will be a cry to make reproductive cloning or cloning-to-produce children a reality. IVF clinics will be bombarded with requests to clone patients. Some IVF doctors are already cloning for research, they have the eggs needed and the facilities so it would be natural that they clone to make babies as well. They are in the baby-making business after all. And some people think cloning is their reproductive right:
"My decision to clone myself should not be the government's business, or Cardinal O'Conner's, anymore than a woman's decision to have an abortion is. Cloning is highly significant. Its part of the reproductive rights of every human being." --Randy Wicher, cloning activistBut what if an IVF practitioners doesn't want to clone babies? What if they find it morally repugnant? Get rid of conscience clauses and that IVF doctor has no legal right to refuse to clone whoever walks through the clinic door.
What happens in the future when transhumanism has taken hold? Transhumanism is a movement that would use technology not to cure or treat disease but to enhance otherwise healthy individuals beyond normal human abilities. Transhumanists would like nothing more than to chop off their perfectly good limb and replace it with an artificial one that performs better. They would love to have unlimited access to cognitive enhancing drugs or be able to genetically engineer themselves or their offspring.
But what if a surgeon doesn't want to amputate a healthy limb and replace it with an artificial one? What if that surgeon thinks making a healthy person into cyborg is morally wrong?
What if a pharmacist doesn't want to dispense cognitive enhancing drugs to healthy people because he or she knows the risks of such drugs? What if he or she believes cognitive enhancements for normal individuals is morally wrong?
What if doctors who perform gene therapy for muscle wasting diseases are asked to genetically alter a normal man to have an unnatural amount of muscle? What if that doctor is asked to enhance children the same way? What if he or she believes that genetically altering healthy people or children without informed consent is morally wrong?
Take away conscience protections and these medical professionals will have no choice but to comply with their patient's requests. Even if they know these procedures are dangerous and carry great risks, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists may be compelled to participate. Or if they are morally opposed to operating on healthy people, they will no longer have a choice simply because their "patient's rights" trump their right to make moral decisions.
Conscience clauses are not just about contraception, abortion and assisted suicide. Their importance is far greater than that. We must give health care providers the ability to listen to their conscience or we maybe forcing them to participate in cloning, enhancements, or whatever else biotechnology has in store. Be careful what you wish for. Those who support removing conscience protections now, may have cloning, cyborgs, genetically enhanced children and other morally repugnant technologies shoved down their throats in the future.
Monday, December 5. 2011
The secret is this: somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT,) better known as cloning, requires an enormous amount of eggs. Human eggs, retrieved from young human females. Your niece, your daughter, your granddaughter. And the procedure to get these eggs necessary for cloning is no walk in the park.
To retrieve the enormous amount of eggs needed for SCNT, many women have to undergo a difficult and dangerous procedure. First they are injected with drugs that stimulate their ovaries to produce multiple eggs. This is called ovarian hyperstimulation. The women then undergo surgery to retrieve the eggs produced. Depending on which drugs are used, as many as 10% of women will experience ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), a serious complication that includes enlargement of the ovaries and can cause permanent infertility and even death. OHSS may also cause blood clotting disorders and kidney damage. Women who have undergone ovarian hyperstimulation may have increased risk of ovarian cancer. The horror stories of the medical problems experienced by women who donated their eggs are numerous. (Three are documented in the following video from the film Eggsploitation.)
So support for cloning research is a de facto support for putting young women's health and lives at risk. This is the reality that supporters of cloning for stem cells don't want you to know about.
But some feminists are speaking out. They realize that simply pursing this research puts vulnerable women at risk and if it is successful it will create an even more intense market for human eggs. Three "pro-choice" feminists have written a letter to the editors of Nature in response to an article on cloning research. Here is the letter in its entirety:
The demand for women’s eggs for research could soar alarmingly following news of a cloning technique that uses human oocytes to reprogram somatic cells to a state of pluripotency (S. Noggle et al. Nature 478, 70–75; 2011).
Friday, December 2. 2011
Korean scientists are at it again. Professor Park Se-pill at Jeju National University is attempting to clone human embryos after the disgrace of his fellow countryman Hwang Woo-Suk. Hwang claimed he was the first to clone human embryos and destroy them from their stem cells. This claim was revealed to be false but not before Hwang enjoyed enormous celebrity status including a nod on an official postage stamp depicting a paralyzed patient getting up and walking again.
Cloning embryos to get patient-specific embryonic stem cells (stem cells genetically identical to the patient) has been a dismal failure. In the meantime researchers have put young women's reproductive health and even their lives at risk to retrieve the hundreds of human eggs need for even one attempt at cloning a human embryo. Even Hwang lied about how many eggs it took in his attempts at cloning. He claimed he improved the process and needed less eggs. In reality, Hwang blew through many as 2,000 eggs from as many as 120 women in his failed attempt to become the first to clone a human embryo. Some of those eggs came from 2 junior researchers in Hwang's own lab.
This commodification of women's bodies by cloning researchers is totally unnecessary because scientists can create patient-specific embryonic-like stem cells without cloning and without eggs. These cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and some are calling them the new super model in biological research. Instead of cloning a human embryo and destroying him or her for the stem cells inside, scientists take a cell from the patient and reprogram it back to an embryonic-like state. No human organisms created and destroyed, no eggs needed and no specter of using the technology for reproductive cloning (cloning to produce children) in the future.
And yet Park Se-pill is still trying to clone human embryos. And he says he will do it before 2015. From The Korea Times:
Professor Park Se-pill at Jeju National University is striving to clone human embryonic stem cells by 2015, the much-touted breakthrough that no scientists have ever achieved.Hwang's exploitation of women in his quest for cloning made South Korean outlaw the use of fresh eggs for these experiments so at least this time Se-pill cannot exploit young women just for his attempts.
But what if he successful? What then? Will the ban on using fresh eggs in his country stand? Will the frenzy that surrounded Hwang the first time mean an end to these protections for women against exploitation for cloning research?
And what will it mean for young women worldwide? Will a cloning boom mean an even more intense market for human eggs? Will it mean more poor women putting their fertility and lives at risk to satisfy the insatiable appetite of cloners?
I am certain it will. And for what? Stem cells we can get through other means. Thus proving what I have believed all along. Cloning for stem cells is not about stem cells nor treating patients. It is about creating human clones plain and simple. Just because we can. I love this quote from former President George W. Bush:
"Anything other than a total ban on human cloning would be virtually impossible to enforce. Cloned human embryos created for research would be widely available in laboratories and embryo farms. Once cloned embryos were available, implantation would take place. Even the tightest regulations and strict policing would not prevent or detect the birth of cloned babies."
Friday, October 7. 2011
The media is all a buzz about the announcement that researchers in New York were finally able to clone a human embryo and extract stem cells from it. Newspaper headlines everywhere are implying that this technique has made it possible to create an embryonic stem cell line that is genetically identical, what is often called "patient-specific" or "tailor-made", to the patient and therefore could be used to generate stem cells for treatment. Look at this Reuters headline:
U.S. scientists for the first time have used a cloning technique to get tailor-made embryonic stem cells to grow in unfertilized human egg cells, a landmark finding and a potential new flashpoint for opponents of stem cell research.Except that scientists did not make "tailor-made" embryonic stem cells at all. To theoretically make embryonic stem cells by cloning, one would have to remove the nucleus of a donor egg, then place inside the 46 chromosomes of the patient being cloned. The egg is stimulated into thinking it was fertilized and a cloned embryo is created. That cloned embryo would have the 46 chromosomes of the patient as its genome. The cells it would create, except for a small amount of DNA left by the woman who donated the egg, would be "tailor-made" to the patient cloned. Researchers would then destroy the cloned embryo for the cells inside.
But this traditional cloning technique, tried and tried again, has been unsuccessful. In humans the cloned embryos do not continue dividing and no stem cells are harvested. So this time scientists decided to leave the nucleus of the egg alone and just insert the 46 chromosomes of the patient making an embryo with 69 chromosomes, a serious genetic condition called triploidy, which is nearly always fatal before birth.
In reality, what these scientists did is intentionally create human organisms with a devastating genetic condition to be destroyed for cells that are not only NOT a genetic match to the patient but could never be used to treat any patient.
Many people have been asking me why? Why do such an experiment? The answer is quite simple. Pluriptoency. Researchers want pluripotent stem cells. Pluripotent is a term used to describe a cell that is undifferentiated. A pluripotent cell can become most or all of the cell types in the body.
So why is pluripotency desirable? Well, it was thought that best way to get any kind of cell that was needed for therapy was to start with a pluripotent cell and differentiate it into the cell type of interest. Scientists envision taking pluripotent stem cells and making them into any kind of cell they wanted or any kind of cell the patient needs.
Pluripotent stem cells can come from embryos made from IVF that are ripped apart for the stem cell mass inside. But those embryos would not be a "genetic match" to the patient. So after Dolly the sheep was cloned, scientists wanted to use the same cloning technique to create embryos that are clones of the patient and then destroy them for the "patient-specific" pluripotent stem cells inside.
There are many problems with cloning, both morally and practically, but one of the biggest is that cloning requires human eggs which puts woman at risk for exploitation. This recent "cloning" technique is no different. To clone these triploidy embryos, women were paid to undergo and invasive and difficult procedure that has grave risks including loss of fertility, possible link to future cancer and in rare cases, death.
The good news is that recently scientists have been able to induce pluripotency without creating embryos or using eggs. They are able to take a fully differentiated cell like a skin cell and reprogram it back to pluripotency. These are called induced pluripotent stem cells or iPSCs. Instead of ripping open embryos or using eggs to create cloned embryos, iPSC technology uses other means like placing the differentiated cells in certain chemicals that reprogram them back to pluripotency. Some researchers are skipping the pluripotent stage altogether and directly reprogramming one cell, like a skin cell, into another like a neuron.
Induced pluripotent stem cell technology makes these new "cloning" experiments even more egregious because it proves that cloning embryos to get pluripotent stem cells is not necessary. Scientists can already take my skin cell and make a "tailor-made" pluripotent stem cell line without creating my clone and destroying it for the stem cells. They can certainly do it already without creating a clone of me that also has an additional 23 chromosomes from another woman.
This new "cloning breakthrough" not only does not make "tailor-made" stem cells, but it is totally unnecessary. It puts women's health at risk, it creates and destroys life, and all for stem cells that could never treat a single patient. I hardly call that an advance.
Wednesday, October 5. 2011
The Washington Post story headline says "Scientists report possibly crucial advance in human embryonic stem cell research." The story says upfront:
Scientists reported Wednesday that for the first time they used cloning techniques to coax human eggs to generate embryonic stem cells containing the genes of specific patients.So it SOUNDS as though the New York scientists were able to clone an embryo and extract embryonic stem cells from it that are an exact match to the patient that could potentially be used to treat that patient. That would be what many people refer to as therapeutic cloning. But reading further we find that that IS NOT what these researchers at the New York Stem Cell Foundation and Columbia University did at all.
In traditional cloning, the nucleus of an egg from a female egg donor is removed and replaced with the nucleus of a somatic cell (i.e. skin cell) of the patient to be cloned. The egg is made to think it was fertilized and a cloned embryo is created and allowed to divide. That cloned embryo could be implanted into a uterus and grown into a baby, which is often referred to as reproductive cloning, or torn apart and destroyed for stem cells, which is referred to as therapeutic cloning.
This technique of removing the nucleus of the egg and replacing it with the nucleus of another cell has been difficult to accomplish in humans and has not really produced any results. What these researchers did INSTEAD was leave the nucleus of the egg, with its 23 chromosomes, and place the 46 chromosomes of the patient in as well, creating an embryo that has 69 chromosomes. The resulting embryos had the 23 chromosomes of the woman who donated the egg AND the 46 chromosomes of the patient that was "cloned." These embryos grew and then were destroyed for stem cells that have, not 46 chromosomes, but 69 chromosomes, making the harvested cells totally useless for treatment. A fact pointed out only near the end of The Washington Post story:
The cells, however, contained an extra set of gene-carrying chromosomes — one set of 23 chromosomes from the egg and the usual two sets of 46 chromosomes from the diabetics who provided their genes. That makes them useless for treating anyone.These researchers went beyond just cloning human embryos and destroying them. They intentionally created human embryos with triploidy, a genetic condition where a person has 3 copies of each of the 23 chromosomes instead of two. While triploidy is often fatal, some children with triploidy do survive to birth and beyond. I cannot emphasize this enough. These scientists intentionally created human lives that they knew would have a devastating genetic condition and then destroyed them for cells the researchers knew could never be used to treat anyone. This is beyond morally offensive, it is downright evil.
The worst part is, there is no need to clone these embryos at all. Scientists can already take a somatic cell like a skin cell and reprogram it back to pluripotency (the intent of therapeutic cloning) without using eggs or creating embryos. The technology is called induced pluripotent stem cells and it has been around for years and is quickly becoming a standard tool in stem cell research. Induced pluripotent stem cell technology does the same thing as therapeutic cloning, makes pluripotent stem cells from cells like skin cells, but does it without creating and destroying any human embryos.
It is time that the federal government outlaw cloning in humans, even just for research purposes. This cannot continue. Please contact your congressional representative in the House and in the Senate and beg them to pass a COMPLETE ban on somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) in humans as many other countries have done. Ask them to put a stop to the intentional creation of human life to be used and destroyed for research that will never treat a single patient.
Friday, August 26. 2011
Discussing cloning in animals is easy. No one seems to have a problem accurately describing the process of cloning, somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT, for a sheep or a cow. (SCNT is the process used to create Dolly the sheep. In SCNT, the nucleus of an egg is removed. The egg's nucleus is replaced with a nucleus of a somatic cell, like a skin cell, from an adult organism. The egg with a new set of DNA is zapped into thinking it has been fertilized and a cloned embryo is formed.) In fact, I have never seen a cloning account for an animal that wasn't accurate. For example, this description by Popular Science on plans to use SCNT with eggs from spayed domestic cats to clone the endangered Scottish wildcat. This account of SCNT clearly states that it would produce a wildcat embryo:
For the rest of the animal kingdom, SCNT is a no-brainer. Egg + somatic cell nucleus = cloned embryo. But no so for humans. In humans, many people argue that SCNT is an entirely different process. In humans, it does not create a cloned embryo like in animals. Instead SCNT in humans only makes "a clump of cells." For example, in Minnesota Medicine, an M.D. and a Ph.D. do a real snow job. They write this about SCNT:
SCNT is a laboratory technique that involves the transfer of a cell nucleus from a somatic cell into an enucleated egg (one from which the nucleus has been removed). The technique produces a formless group of cells that is smaller than the cross-section of a human hair.
So SCNT in animals: egg + somatic nucleus = cloned embryo. Got it. But for humans: egg + somatic nucleus = formless group of cells that is smaller than the cross-section of a human hair. Don't got it.
In the cloning advocates eyes, pretending that SCNT doesn't make cloned embryos means problem solved. Create and destroy human life by pretending no human life is created and destroyed. Except we know they are being disingenuous. And there are a handful of scientists who are brave enough to say so as well. Like James Thomson, embryonic stem cell pioneer, who said the following when asked if SCNT only could make cells and not babies:
The paradox is astounding. The same people who say that SCNT does not created embryos in humans would likely also say that humans are just animals. Then why doesn't the animal description of SCNT apply to humans? Maybe because they also know, but will not admit, that cloning human embryos is morally problematic. It is what cloning advocates don't say about SCNT in humans that speaks the loudest.
Wednesday, May 25. 2011
Wednesday, May 4. 2011
So just remember every time someone advocates for SCNT as a precursor to embryonic stem cell research, they are advocating that women undergo this same procedure, with these same risks, to get the enormous amount of eggs needed. It is totally unnecessary since scientists already have a way to reprogram adult cells back to an embryonic-like state without using SCNT. Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) create patient specific embryonic-like stem cells (just like they claim SCNT does,) but without the eggs and without cloning embryos.
A vote to ban SCNT in humans is a vote to protect women from what happen to Shavonne. I am amazed that a country like the United States that is so into protecting woman's reproductive health is so silent on the risks that cloning research poses to young woman. But then again nothing makes any sense in the Clone Wars.
This misdirection regarding somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), also known as cloning, takes the cake. An M.D. and a Ph.D. do a real snow job. In Minnesota Medicine they write this about SCNT:
Seriously? Since when is "formless group of cells smaller than the cross-section of a human hair" a suitable scientific substitute for the term "embryo." Try using that description in a real scientific journal article. As for the assertion that it is not "feasible" that SCNT can lead to the creation of a baby, I guess they are not aware that SCNT has been used to clone Dolly the sheep as well as other full grown adult mammals like cows, pigs and dogs. But of course the debates on cloning is the only time humans aren't like any other animal. Are these guys really willing to say that SCNT is cloning in animals but not in humans?! Unbelievable.
I prefer these more scientifically accurate descriptions of SCNT from the American Medical Association:
Or the National Academy of Sciences:
It seems this MD and PhD are guilty of exactly what James Thomson, embryonic stem cell pioneer, accurately calls "being disingenuous" in this Q and A at MSNBC. They are trying to define away that fact that SCNT in humans creates a cloned human embryo:
Monday, April 4. 2011
And I don't mean that the Stars Wars movies are out on Blu Ray. Like a bad case of head lice, just when you think the debates about human cloning are over, they come back. And with them come piles of misinformation from the media on the science and ethics surrounding human cloning research. Minnesota has proposed a true ban on human cloning and like magic every media outlet anywhere near a lake has decided it is their job to obfuscate the issue and confuse the public. So while I really do not want to rehash the cloning issue, I think it is time for a refresher on what cloning is, what it isn't and why we need to care. Stick with me. I will try to make this as painless as possible!
The technical term for cloning is somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT. SCNT is the process used to clone Dolly the sheep. SCNT creates a cloned embryo from an egg and an adult cell like a skin cell. (More on SCNT.) Contrary to popular belief human cloning is not banned in the United States. In fact researchers in most states can clone human embryos with SCNT all day long. With H.F. 998 The Human Cloning Prohibition Act, the Minnesota legislature is trying to ban all SCNT in humans. Opponents insist that H.F.998 will halt stem cell research.
The truth is that cloning research is independent of stem cell research, even the embryonic kind. Researchers can clone human embryos with no intention of using them for harvesting stem cells. Embryonic stem cell research can proceed just fine with embryos that were not made with cloning. Cloning is making genetically identical human embryos and stem cell research is research on stem cells. Scientifically speaking they have little to do with each other.
Linking human cloning with embryonic stem cell research is a red herring used to make sure a true ban on human cloning never makes it into law. Here is the ruse. Scientists say that to make embryonic stem cells that are genetically identical to the patient, the have to clone the patient with SCNT and harvest the stem cells from the cloned embryo. Using SCNT, they can create patient specific stem cells that the patient will not reject because they are genetically identical to the patient. (The genetically identical part is not actually true. A clone will always have genetic material leftover from the woman who donated the egg.) Researchers insist that a ban on SCNT in humans will hinder stem cell research.
Cue the media that intentionally misrepresents the cloning process and screams that a ban on human cloning will make stem cell research a felony. Reporters have been playing the stem cell research card for years. They report that SCNT is only cloning if the cloned embryo finds it way into a uterus. Politicians and advocates play along. They all lie and tell the public that SCNT is only cloning if a cloned baby results. In other words, cloning is only cloning if used in reproduction. If a cloned embryo is made with SCNT and then destroyed in research then magically it isn't cloning anymore. Instead, SCNT is just stem cell research that will cure you, your mother, your second cousin and your dog. They insist that a ban on SCNT will destroy the pantheon of stem cell cures before it is ever built and anyone who says otherwise is a close-minded, religious idiot with no grasp of science whatsoever. Even the National Catholic Reporter got it wrong.
What they will never tell you is the truth. SCNT is the act of cloning. SCNT creates a cloned embryo irregardless of the fate of that clone. Whether that cloned embryo is ripped apart for the stem cells inside or is implanted into a uterus, it was still cloned. The only difference between so-called therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning is where the clone ends up. The cloning part is the same. (More on reproductive versus therapeutic cloning.) A true ban on human cloning bans all SCNT in humans.
They will never mention that SCNT takes eggs, lots and lots of human eggs. To get these eggs, young women's health, fertility and sometimes even their lives are put at risk. So far, it has taken hundreds of eggs for just one successful attempt at SCNT. Which means dozens of women had to donate for just one SCNT embryo. Dr. Woo-Suk Hwang, the disgraced South Korean researcher, forced his own female researchers to donate their eggs for his research because they couldn't get enough from the local IVF clinic.
They will also not tell you that after years of trying, cloning human embryos is tough and extracting a viable stem cell line form a cloned embryo is even tougher. To my knowledge it has yet to be accomplished. So no one ever been close to being treated with embryonic stem cells from a cloned embryo. Some scientists wonder if embryonic stem cells, cloned or otherwise, will ever be safe enough to treat patients because tumors have been reported in animal trial after animal trial. After years of delays over safety concerns, the very first embryonic stem cell trial is underway. It is only for a handful of patients and it is only to test the safety of the embryonic stem cells. All this is for stem cells from an embryo created the old-fashioned way with egg and sperm. I cannot imagine the delays for human trials with stem cells from a cloned embryo.
But the facts will not deter the bleeding hearts that cry that without cloning the cures will never come. They point to other, more enlightened countries, that are not as backward as we are with our archaic cloning and stem cell rules. Actually, many of those enlightened countries have banned SCNT in humans as recommended by the United Nations. Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, France and many many others, prohibit all SCNT in humans even for research. Whether or not these countries are farther ahead in stem cell treatments than the US is debatable, but if they are it is because they do not waste their time and money on research that has not, and likely will never, treat a single patient. They are putting their efforts into adult stem cell research that has proven effective, while we are still staring at our navels and arguing over whether a cloned embryo is still an embryo.
The biggest fact they will never tell you is that there is a viable alternative to cloning for patient specific stem cells. Induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells have been created from all kinds of adult cells. iPS cells are derived from adult cells that have been reprogrammed back to an embryonic state. iPS cell behave like embryonic stem cells and they are a genetic match to the patient because they came from the patient, not from a clone (that has residual DNA from the woman who donated the egg.) iPS cells mean patient-specific stem cells, a true genetic match, no eggs, no embryos created or destroyed, no cloning required.
Even after all of the facts, cloning zealots still push their agenda. The comments on this Minnesota Independent article are both aggravating and discouraging.
The only thing that puts a smirk in my snerk, is that I realize something they don't. SCNT is the same process used to clone cows. You know the cows that everyone fears. The cows whose milk no one wants to drink. I know that the people who push for SCNT in humans are the very same who are afraid to drink milk from a cloned cow. So while they complain about the horrors and health risks of milk and meat from cloned cows, they are clamoring to inject themselves with stem cells from a cloned embryo. Their dead clone to be exact. Go figure. Like most things in the Clone Wars, it makes absolutely no sense.
Why should we care about some piece of legislation in Minnesota? Because cloning is always wrong even if it done for a proposed good. It creates, manipulates and destroys human life. And anyone who believes that the cloning will end in the dish is naive. Cloning for research will lead to cloning for babies. According to some experts it is an inevitability. All SCNT in humans needs to be banned. If Minnesota succeeds where other states and the US Congress has failed, it will be a huge triumph for humanity.
Wednesday, March 16. 2011
I have always said, "Beware of legislation that says it bans human cloning!" It is not that I don't want human cloning banned. I do. And so should you. It is just that most legislation that says it bans human cloning, doesn't actually ban human cloning, it redefines it. Somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT is the scientific name for cloning. If you read the fine print of many a law that says it bans human cloning often SCNT in humans is NOT banned. SCNT could be used to create as many cloned human embryos as researchers want. What is banned is just the implantation of those cloned embryos into a womb. Confused? You should be. See the slight of hand is subtle but important. Here is a visual. The first diagram is of the actual cloning or SCNT process that creates cloned embryos: (For a more detailed explanation of SCNT, click here)
This next visual is of what they can DO with a cloned embryo AFTER the cloning is complete:
The legislation in Minnesota is a TRUE ban on human cloning. It bans all SCNT in humans. H.F. 998 The Human Cloning Prohibition Act states that human cloning is ANY SCNT in humans:
Kudos to law makers in Minnesota. If you live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes you should call you representative and tell them that you support H.R. 998. If you do not live near so many lakes, you need to read the text of any state legislation that says it bans human cloning carefully. If it doesn't ban all SCNT in humans and just says it bans the implantation of a product of SCNT, then take a pass and push your legislators to come up with a real ban on human cloning.
Wednesday, February 23. 2011
AgResearch is a state-owned research agency in New Zealand. Because of the death toll in their cloned livestock they have ceased researching the cloning of animals. From www.stuff.co.nz:
This cloning process, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) that led to spontaneous abortions, abnormalities and death in animals is the very same process that researchers in the U.S. claim will allow them to make patient-specific stem cells to treat all kinds of ailments in humans. Yes, the very same one. Missouri enshrined somatic cell nuclear transfer into its state constitution with Amendment 2 (read section 6 part 2) and California tax-payers voted to fund SCNT research to the tune of $3 billion with Proposition 71.
So I wonder how the very same process that causes a halt in research with animal models because of abnormalities and death, could continue to be proposed as a way to treat humans. I doubt if cloning research is really about the cures at all...
Monday, August 2. 2010
Sometimes I marvel at the lengths humans go to delude ourselves. For years I have pointed out one very unusual phenomenon regarding cloning. All over the world, consuming products from cloned animals or their offspring is bad, while creating human clones for stem cells to inject into human patients is good. Cloned animals and cloned humans are both made with the process somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT. Both are genetically modified organisms, but eating cloned animal products is considered "yucky" while the idea of injecting cloned human cells directly into our bodies is "laudable." I just do not get it.
Now I am not advocating eating cloned animal products, just pointing out the strange love-hate relationship we have with cloning. But, as I have said before, if it came down to drinking milk from a cloned cow or injecting myself with cells from a dead cloned embryo, I say, "Please pass the Oreos."
Britain is particularly puzzling. This New York Times article points out the Brits uneasiness with cloned animals or their offspring getting into the food supply, meanwhile they are funding the creation of cloned human-animal hybrids with the intent to create stem cells. From the NYT:
So animal cloning is considered immoral if it is for food supply, but making cloned animal-human hybrids for stem cell research is not. From The Guardian in 2008:
And while stem cells from human-cow hybrid embryos will probably never be injected into a human patient, I am wondering where is the outcry?
There is none and there will not be. Why? Because in our upside down society, cloning for food is bad but cloning to live forever is good.
Friday, July 2. 2010
Bill Tammeus, at the National Catholic Reporter says It's easy to be mislead on stem cell research. He is right, but he is the one doing the misleading. He insists that the product of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) also known as cloning is NOT a cloned human embryo, just a "small cluster of stem cells." The American Medical Association disagrees:
"Alternatively, stem cells have also been obtained from embryos generated from unfertilized eggs using a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Initially, SCNT technology was designed to produce embryos from which immunologically compatible stem cells could be derived for use in treating human diseases (therapeutic cloning). However, recent advances in the technology have prompted concerns about embryos formed by SCNT being misused for generating human clones (reproductive cloning)."
See many are concerned that SCNT will lead to reproductive cloning because it does in fact create a human embryo. If SCNT, the same technique that created Dolly, makes cloned sheep embryos, then it sure as sh** makes human embryos when used with human eggs and human somatic cells. (Sorry I am really angry!)
The National Academy of Sciences also refers to the product of SCNT as a blastocyst, which is an early embryo, that could grow into a fetus if placed in a uterus:
Apparently he knows better than the American Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences. Mr. Tammeus, maybe it is you that needs some enlightening so you can learn how to "name and understand things properly."
Hat Tip: Catholic Key
Wednesday, June 30. 2010
I have written before about the novel Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, about the life of clones created to be organ donors. I highly recommend this book because it is the future of a society that accepts the creation of human life to be harvestable biological material. We are headed down this road already creating human embryos to be harvested for research.
The following passage from Never Let Me Go explains how society came to accept the creation and harvesting of clones. It is my favorite passage from the novel because it illustrates just how slippery the slope is. Just how easy it is to label a human life as "not human" to satisfy a perceived need. Here a woman explains to a clone how it was she came to be and why her lot in life is what it is:
Never Let Me Go is now a movie. Here is the trailer. I really hope they left the above passage intact because it is a truth that everyone needs to hear.
Sunday, October 18. 2009
A fish named Holly may have placed Singapore on the world map for being the birthplace of the very first semi-cloned animal.
This begs the question: why would scientists want to create an animal that was only semi-cloned? As with much crazy manipulations in creating life, scientists envision this technique being used to treat infertility in humans:
Now, the successful birth of the first semi-cloned animal, Holly the fish, means researchers can possibly use semi-cloning as a method to treat infertile couples....
Scientists want to replace the sperm from infertile men and use a genetically modified stem cell from them for conception instead. This would allow infertile men to have "genetically-related" offspring.
The Catholic Church would be soundly against using this technique in humans for many reasons. First, it would require the creation of human life in a dish. Second, it would result in a genetically modified embryo that could not but help passing that genetic modification on to its offspring.
Interestingly, this above article has a great quote on this technique from a Catholic priest:
Father James Yeo from St Anne's Church told MediaCorp: "The Catholic Church has no objection to the cloning of plants and animals as long as these technologies are not harmful to the environment and do not pose any disproportionate risks to human life."
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