Scientists have discovered how to make human embryos, and turn them into stem cells.
In order to create a clone, there must be a jacket for recombinant DNA, which is essentially DNA that has been spliced together like strips of film and placed into an organism, called a “vector.” The vector then creates multiple copies of itself. Previously such organisms as bacterium were used as vectors. Now eggs essentially purchased from “donors” have provided the jackets. In a process called “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT), the nucleus of a somatic cell is removed and placed in a cell without a nucleus. The dislocated nucleus is then “reprogrammed” by the host cell.
Scientists were previously unsuccessful in getting the host eggs to reproduce. Now, as a result of chemicals and electrical current— a la Frankenstein’s monster— the eggs with borrowed DNA have grown and divided to become human embryos. This represents a substantial advancement in the process of cloning.
The embryos are then used to create stem cells.
When embryos are about a week old, they are referred to as “blastocysts.” Cells are removed from the inner cell mass region of a blastocyst and placed on a culture plate containing nutrients and growth factors. Cells that can multiply and divide establish an embryonic cell line, i.e. stem cells. These cells have the potential to develop into any type of cell, which is why they are so valuable to the process of creating stem cells.
The embryos are destroyed in the process.
In 2002, with the encouragement of then-President George Bush the second, a commission of bioethicists urged that reproductive cloning be outlawed. But no legislation has yet passed at the federal level to prohibit this practice. Only 13 states have laws banning human cloning.
Oregon, in which the research was conducted, does not have such am embargo.
While such states as California have regulations governing payments to donors, a free market for eggs flourishes in others states, and will in all likelihood continue.
The unanswered question is whether embryos created in a laboratory are nevertheless to be regarded as human beings. Pro-life advocated obviously think so. Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed his opposition to embryonic stem cell research, based on the teaching of the Church maintaining that life begins at conception. Nearly all of the Republican presidential candidates in the 2011 election opposed President Obama’s efforts to broaden federal spending on embryonic stem cell research. In 2009, President Obama issued an executive order lifting Bush-era restrictions on taxpayer support for this research.
Other scientists, researchers emphasize the fact the stem cells derived from this process can be used for the treatment of a variety of illnesses and health problems.
A variety of national and international associations have been formed to foster or oppose embryonic cell research, such as the International Society for Stem Cell Research. Of course there are many groups opposed to such research, such as the National Right to Life Committee and the Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics
While the debate continues, embryos will continue to be used for stem cell production, especially as a result of these new findings.
Written by: Tom Ukinski