Australia, much like the U.S., has been in the midst of an intense debate regarding cloning/stem cell research. Recently, legislators in New South Wales voted to overturn their previous ban on therapeutic human cloning. In his article, New science leaves cloning as dead as Dolly for the Australian e-journal On Line Opinion, Dr. David van Gend, a family doctor in Toowoomba, discuses the June 7 announcement about ordinary mouse skin cells being turned into embryonic stem cells and the future of cloning research.
Ain’t science and politics grand! Straight after Victoria and New South Wales vote to legalise cloning, the vote becomes irrelevant. Just in time for the International Society for Stem Cell Research to hold its grand cloning conference in Cairns, this repulsive and unnecessary science is left as dead as Dolly.
New science has emerged this month which radically undermines the already spurious case for cloning: entirely ethical science that obtains the same “tailor-made” stem cells that cloning hopes to obtain, but without the creation and destruction of cloned embryos. Since June 7, 2007 the whole debate has been radically changed.
Now, as other state and territory parliaments are asked to replicate federal legislation allowing cloning, they must take into account new science that the feds knew nothing of.
Nature journal and Stem Cell journal, on June 7, published three papers confirming a simple method of turning mouse skin cells into genuine “pluripotent” stem cells – the functional equivalent of embryonic stem cells. These cells are the putative goal of “research cloning”, but here they are reached in a simpler, saner way.
“The race is now on to apply the surprisingly straightforward procedure to human cells”, writes the Nature commentary, entitled “Simple switch turns cells embryonic”.
“It’s unbelievable, just amazing,” says Hans Schöler (a stem-cell specialist at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine in Münster who is not involved with any of the three articles). “For me it’s like Dolly [the first cloned mammal]. It’s that type of accomplishment.”
In a comment that sweeps away the whole ethical nightmare of creating cloned human embryos solely for research, and all the concerns about commercialising women’s eggs, Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University, who pioneered the new technique, says “Neither eggs nor embryos are necessary. I’ve never worked with either”…
What Yamanaka did was to take a mouse skin cell and introduce four small proteins which reprogram the cell’s nuclear DNA to make it pluripotent – effectively the same as an embryonic stem cell…
Cloning has always been promoted as the only way to get embryonic stem cells that exactly match a patient – an exact match because the cloned embryo is the patient’s identical twin. But if that goal of patient-specific pluripotent stem cells is now achieved by Yamanaka’s ethically uncomplicated method, what is left for cloning?…
The fact remains that we must not – and clearly do not have to – resort to the unethical act of creating new embryos solely for research. We do not have to violate the deepest bond of human life – that between mother and offspring – by creating living human embryos that have no natural mother, and are denied any place in the human family. Human procreation must stay human.
The cloning era, which started with a sheep from Scotland, may have effectively ended with a mouse from Japan. Meantime the great things of stem cell science will continue to come through entirely ethical means – adult stem cell research, and now the new Yamanaka technique.