Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dolly creator Prof Ian Wilmut shuns cloning - Telegraph

Dolly creator Prof Ian Wilmut shuns cloning - Telegraph:
"The scientist who created Dolly the sheep, a breakthrough that provoked headlines around the world a decade ago, is to abandon the cloning technique he pioneered to create her.

Prof Ian Wilmut's decision to turn his back on 'therapeutic cloning', just days after US researchers announced a breakthrough in the cloning of primates, will send shockwaves through the scientific establishment.

He and his team made headlines around the world in 1997 when they unveiled Dolly, born July of the year before.

But now he has decided not to pursue a licence to clone human embryos, which he was awarded just two years ago, as part of a drive to find new treatments for the devastating degenerative condition, Motor Neuron disease.

Prof Wilmut, who works at Edinburgh University, believes a rival method pioneered in Japan has better potential for making human embryonic cells which can be used to grow a patient's own cells and tissues for a vast range of treatments, from treating strokes to heart attacks and Parkinson's, and will be less controversial than the Dolly method, known as "nuclear transfer."

His announcement could mark the beginning of the end for therapeutic cloning, on which tens of millions of pounds have been spent worldwide over the past decade. "
This is a fairly long article and goes into a lot of the science, ethics, and politics of stem cell research.

Wilmut's decision is based primarily on the value he sees in the Japanese research, which is achieving impressive results without the extra baggage of bioethics concerns that are being raised over techniques that require the creation and subsequent destruction of embryos.

The recent success in the cloning of primate embryos noted in the quotation above is characterized later in this article as requiring 304 eggs to get to a point where two stem cell lines were created -- and one of them had too many chromosomal abnormalities to be of any use. This is complicated by the fact that there is a great demand for human eggs to be used for fertility treatments, and this argues against such an inefficient process in view of such demand.

The Japanese successes in creating pluripotent stem cell lines from adult body cells seems to be a bit of a paradigm shift. For many years scientists had considered development and differentiation to be largely a one-way street. In other words a skin cell could not be expected to de-differentiate to the point where it could turn into other types of cells. We are now learning that this is, indeed, possible and this realization may result in lives being saved.

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