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Think about how this either supports stem cell research or could cause a backlash in support for stem cell research.
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A Promising Cloning Proposal
October 15, 2004
Harvard scientists are seeking permission to conduct
therapeutic cloning that would involve the creation and
destruction of early stage human embryos to get their stem
cells for research. Although this kind of research is
anathema to the Bush administration and has been opposed in
unusually strong language by the president, it is vitally
needed to improve scientific understanding of some of the
most daunting diseases that plague human beings.
If the proposals pass muster with ethical and safety review
boards at the university in the next several months, the
research should be welcomed for its potential intellectual
and therapeutic value.
The research proposed at Harvard would take an important
step beyond the kind of stem cell research conducted thus
far in this country. Previous research has typically
involved extracting stem cells from surplus embryos that
were created in fertility clinics but never implanted in
women. The political argument has focused mostly on how
many cell lines from these surplus embryos should be made
available to scientists using federal funds.
Now Harvard researchers, using private funds, propose to
create new stem cell lines derived not from existing
embryos, but from embryos that would be created in the
laboratory for the purpose of studying specific diseases.
They hope, for example, to take skin cells from patients
suffering from such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson's,
Alzheimer's and sickle cell anemia and to use those cells
to create embryos - and extract stem cells - that would
have the same genetic makeup as the diseased patients. By
watching what happened when those stem cells matured into
the cell types afflicted with specific diseases, scientists
could learn a great deal about the underlying causes of
such diseases and how they progress in human cells.
The research might also lead to treatments or even cures.
There has been a lot of controversy lately about how far
off these developments might be. Many scientists say it's
improbable that there will be a breakthrough soon in which
stem cells might be used to grow replacement cells for
diseased tissues, leading to a spectacular cure for a
dreaded condition. But other treatments, like a drug
developed to interrupt some step in the disease process,
could come much faster.
This potentially valuable line of research is either
impossible or so forbiddingly difficult as to be
impractical using surplus embryos from fertility clinics.
For many diseases, there is no way to identify which
embryos carry the disease genes. That is why therapeutic
cloning is a critically important next step along the road
toward stem cell treatments.
Such research is already under way in South Korea and has
been approved in Great Britain. It is currently legal in
this country, provided federal funds are not used to
support it. That has put the burden on private institutions
using private funds to keep the United States competitive.
Of the two presidential candidates, Senator John Kerry,
who endorses therapeutic cloning with appropriate federal
and institutional oversight, has the more medically
enlightened position. President Bush, by contrast, has
called for an outright ban on cloning human embryos for
research or therapeutic purposes. His approach would put a
gigantic roadblock in the way of this highly promising
avenue of research.
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