- 06.06.13 01:32 PM EDT
A team at Oregon Health & Science University made a major breakthrough in cloning embryonic stem cells that could lead to major advances in the treatment of diseases... and once again rasies the specter of human cloning.
For the first time, scientists successfully cloned human embryos that are themselves capable of creating human stem cells. Stem cells are valuable because they can morph into any type of human cells, and so could have major implications for treating diseases from Parkinson's to diabetes.
The new work, since it involves stem cells, is of course, controversial. According to NPR, the disagreements arise in two major areas:
The experiments involve creating and then destroying human embryos for research purposes, which some find morally repugnant. The scientists also used cloning techniques, which raise concerns that the research could lead to the cloning of people.
The new technique is called somatic nuclear cell transfer. In it, a donated egg cell has its DNA removed, and in its place, DNA from the patient's skin cell is inserted, essentially "customizing" the new cell for the patient. This technique itself isn't new, but in earlier attempts, the new customized cell's have stalled, unable to keep growing.
The missing piece was the growth signaling usually given to a egg when its fertilized by human sperm. Scientists' breakthrough was creating a new signal to kickstart the process using a bit of electricity, a chemical cocktail, and a splash of caffeine.