The announcement that scientists have cloned a human embryo and taken stem cells from it is a huge advance in human cloning technology that could bring treatments for all sorts of diseases and has already intensified arguments about creating life in a test tube.
“Now that we know that it can be done, the people who don’t want such work to go forward are particularly concerned and the people who want the work to go forward are all the more eager," said Dr. Ruth Faden of Johns Hopkins University.
Korean scientists took unfertilized human eggs and removed the natural genetic material. Next they inserted the genetic material from an adult. The result: a cloned human embryo that developed into what is called a blastocyst, a lump of about 200 cells, smaller than a grain of sand.
If the blastocyst were put into a woman’s womb it might develop into a cloned human baby. But the scientists said they didn't want to do that. Instead, they destroyed the blastocyst and removed the stem cells, which have the potential to treat many diseases.
Still, abortion opponents find the research abhorrent. “We really see this as another giant leap toward human embryo farms in which members of the human species will be created in large numbers to be harvested for their parts,” said Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee.
But Joan Samuelson who suffers from Parkinson’s disease has an entirely different view, as do many people with paralysis diabetes and other debilitating conditions.
“These developments are the steps toward rescuing me and other people with Parkinson’s,” Samuelson said.
Almost no one favors cloning to produce babies, a technology known as reproductive cloning. But cloning to make tiny embryos for stem-cell therapy is an issue that is likely to become as contentious as abortion -- with no simple compromise in sight.
Robert Bazell is NBC News' chief medical correspondent.
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