Scientists have created cloned embryos from the cells of two adults. This feat is the first hard evidence that it’s possible to create clones from cells taken from adult humans. The idea is that in the future, doctors could create cloned embryos of patients when the patients need an organ transplant, for example, or a set of new immune cells. The cloned embryos would serve as a source of stem cells for creating perfectly personalized transplants, no matter how old people are when they first get sick.
The clone-making scientists even gave a preliminary demonstration of this future, as The Wall Street Journal reports. The researchers used the clones, made from cells taken from the dermis layer of the skin of one 35-year-old and one 75-year-old, to generate tissues, including heart cells. The research was conducted by scientists in the U.S. and South Korea. It was funded, in part, by the Korean government. It will likely take decades of additional research to shape such tissues into something that is transplantable into people, plus studies to show such transplants are safe.
Previously, only one lab of scientists—a different one from this—had ever created human clone embryos. That lab, based at the Oregon Health and Science University, made its embryos from the cells of a fetus and of an eight-month-old infant.
The idea is that in the future, doctors could create cloned embryos of patients when the patients need an organ transplant.
Cloned embryos are just one way scientists are seeking to create personalized stem cell therapies for people. Other labs have examined making replacement organs by transforming people’s skin cells into stem cells using a cocktail of genes. That technique doesn’t require a stop in embryo-hood along the way, so it’s less controversial among some. It’s still unclear which technique will ultimately work best, although recently, there’s been much more research into the non-embryonic technique.
Does the recent cloned embryo research mean scientists can now create cloned people?? Stem cell experts say that’s still a long way from being possible. It’s difficult to get cloned embryos to survive until birth. Nobody has ever been able to make a cloned newborn monkey, for example. Scientists have made cloned sheep and dogs.
I’m not sure that there ever will be a real danger that a rogue scientist will make a cloned human baby, as some fear. Even if science progresses that far, it would be difficult to conduct such research without anybody noticing. Cloning efforts require a lot of resources and people—entire labs of scientists, plus someone(s) to carry the embryo(s) to term. But I also don’t know if maybe there is some team of very motivated, precisely trained, well-funded and evil scientists out there who would be able to pull this off. That sounds pretty unlikely to me, but anything is possible, I guess?
The cloned embryo research appears in the journal Cell Stem Cell.