Human Exceptionalism

Cell Reprogramming: “The End of Therapeutic Cloning”

An article in the Telegraph was certainly music to my ears, if you will pardon the somewhat inapt metaphor:

Landmark research published today by scientists in America and Japan is likely to render plans to clone human embryos redundant in the quest for revolutionary new treatments. Dolly the Sheep scientist Prof Ian Wilmut exclusively revealed to The Daily Telegraph last week his intention to adopt the technique and abandon work on therapeutic human cloning because his is convinced that this new work overcomes key practical and ethical issues. Both research groups have found a way to reprogram human skin cells so they cannot be distinguished from embryonic stem cells.

Although at an early stage, the technique holds out the promise of turning a scrape of cells from inside the cheek into embryonic like cells which can be used to repair almost any part of the body without having to clone human embryos.

This will spur research to develop these so called stem cells into the next generation treatments of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, diabetes and Motor Neuron Disease, or repair damage caused by a stroke or heart attack.

As if to underline the significance of the breakthrough, Sir Martin Evans, the British stem cell pioneer who won the Nobel prize this year, said today that his team at Cardiff University will now study the new method to help make it simpler, safer and more straightforward so it could be used on patients. “We have been waiting for this.”

That last point is key: This is just the beginning. The technique remains to be perfected. But if the Telegraph writer is right–and I think he is–treasure and irreplaceable human effort that might have gone into human cloning will instead be invested into this very hopeful avenue of biotechnological research. Hooray.

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