A researcher in New York obtained women’s eggs and conducted experiments on them that could lead to human cloning.  While done in the name of regenerative medicine, the experiments on embryonic stem cells involved the destruction of a human embryo.  This kind of experimentation raises multiple ethical concerns, but the researcher went ahead anyway, and scientific journals are hailing the advance, albeit with a palpable twinge of conscience about ethics.

Dieter Egli had to move his practice from Massachusetts to New York to get around his home state’s laws against compensating women for egg donations.  Using private funds, and paying women $8,000 for their eggs, he used a new method of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) that overcame a barrier other researchers have encountered.  By leaving the egg nucleus intact, and transferring in a nucleus from skin cells, he was able to get the cells to grow past the point where previous attempts stalled.  Embryonic stem cells from his blastula stages showed ability to generate three types of tissues – a sign of pluripotency.  The results were published in Nature.1

It’s doubtful his cells would be useful, though, because they contain three sets of chromosomes instead of the usual two.  Observers are treating this not as a breakthrough, or a process likely to lead to regenerative medicine, but just as an incremental step in understanding stem cells.

1. Noggle, Eglie et al., “Human oocytes reprogram somatic cells to a pluripotent state,” Nature 478 (06 October 2011), pages 70–75, doi:10.1038/nature10397.

Egli’s result raises ethical concerns in at least three ways (see Family Research Council outline on human cloning).  First, paying women for their egg cells could tempt poor women to undergo a risky procedure.  Second, the technique involves the destruction of a human embryo, which many believe to be a human life.  Third, it advances the possibility of cloning humans and producing human-animal chimeras….

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