NEW YORK, Dec. 16 /PRNewswire/ -- Researchers at a small Boston area biotech company have created the most developed human clone embryo yet. The cloned embryo grew to at least 16 cells, a stage of development where it becomes useful for stem cell research, WIRED magazine reports in its January issue. The magazine will be on newsstands on Tuesday, December 23, and is online now at http://www.wired.com/ .
Writing for WIRED magazine, Wendy Rohm Goodman witnessed the breakthrough experiment which in pursuit of stem cells yielded both human clone embryos and human parthenotes, embryo-like balls of cells that have only one set of chromosomes.
The company, Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) of Worcester, Massachusetts, has been involved with therapeutic cloning for some time. In 2001, company researchers grew human clone embryos to six cells. Since then, there have been no published reports of human clone embryos surviving more than a few cell divisions.
Although researchers at the company are focused on only therapeutic cloning, the experiment indicates that science has reached a point where human reproductive cloning may be possible.
During in vitro fertilization, two-day old embryos are commonly implanted in the 100,000 procedures done every year in the U.S. In this case, ACT's embryo survived for at least five days. This raises the question of whether the cloned embryo could have been implanted successfully in a surrogate womb. ACT Medical Director Robert Lanza, M.D. terms such an attempt "dangerous and scientifically irresponsible."
Speaking with WIRED about the ethical implications of his company's work, he says, "Our intent is to use this technology to generate stem cells to treat serious and life-threatening diseases, not to create a child. The American Medical Association agrees that this research is constant with the ethical goals of medicine, namely, healing, prevention of disease, and helping alleviate pain and suffering."
Cloned embryos would produce stem cells that are the exact genetic match of their donors, meaning that resulting medical treatments would run little chance of immune system rejection.
Researchers see embryonic stem cells as healthy replacements for cells damaged by diseases -- including diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson -- that affect 130 million people in the U.S., according to the National Academy of Sciences.
Although the therapeutic value of embryonic stem cells for humans has not yet been proven, ACT's animal research with them includes curing spinal injuries in sheep and successfully cloned kidney cells that were a genetic match to their NDA donor, a cow. ACT also rejuvenated the immune system of a cow with stem cells.
WIRED was granted rare access into the ACT lab to witness the first seven days of the experiment. Goldman Rohm's article is a step-by-step report, beginning with 18 eggs harvested from two egg donors who had been taking fertility drugs, and ending with ACT attempting to derive stem cells from the parthenotes.
News of the experiment comes at time when U.S. and other governments consider banning therapeutic as well as reproductive cloning. This month, the United Nations decided to delay the vote on cloning until next year.