Using essentially the same techniques that resulted in the first cloned adult animal (Dolly the sheep), scientists at Oregon Health Sciences University have cloned human cells and coaxed them into developing into human embryos. Their intent was to be able to produce cloned cell lines from the embryos strictly for therapeutic purposes. The research is published online in the journal Cell. The researchers started with eight human eggs from a single human donor, and after enucleating the eggs, joined them with human skin cells. From these they obtained five blastocysts (early-stage embryos) and ultimately produced four cloned cell lines.

So far, human embryos produced by these techniques (known as somatic cell nuclear transfer) have not been allowed to develop into full-term human babies. The cloning of humans, of course, raises some serious ethical issues. Society will have to grapple with the issue soon, because it’s now clearly within the realm of possibility.

The basic idea behind reproductive cloning research is to be able to produce human tissues that are an exact match for the human patient from which the cloned cell was taken. Tissues produced these techniques could be used to produce skin for treating burns, or perhaps heart, or liver cells to repair a damaged organ, without fear of tissue rejection.

Do the potential medical benefits outweigh the ethical concerns associated with the creation and ultimately the sacrifice of human embryos? You decide.

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