News that scientists had for the first time recovered stem cells from cloned human embryos prompted dire warnings from religious leaders who say the research crosses a moral red line and could lead to designer babies.
Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, point man for the U.S. Catholic bishops on bioethical issues, said Wednesday that “this means of making embryos for research will be taken up by those who want to produce cloned children as ‘copies’ of other people.”
Human cloning “treats human beings as products,” O’Malley said on behalf of the bishops, “manufactured to order to suit other people’s wishes. … A technical advance in human cloning is not progress for humanity but its opposite.”
PORTLAND, Ore. – Future generations could be stripped of mutations such as hereditary blindness or maternal diabetes, after a breakthrough study at Oregon Health & Science University.
But the new technique is also one short step from genetic design of future generations, said Marcy Darnovksy of the California-based Center for Genetics and Society. "These powerful new technologies have a whole bunch of wonderful and appropriate uses – and a number of ways they can be misused.
The researchers, led by OHSU biologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov, modified unfertilized eggs for the first time, a technique that offers great promise as well as ethical pitfalls. Such research is banned in many countries.
Three years ago, the Russian-born Mitalipov made headlines with experiments that created monkeys with genetic material from three parents. Now, his team has done it with human cells, setting the stage for possible experiments with humans.
The procedure dealt with what's called mitochondrial DNA, the small part of the cell that turns food into energy. Mitochondrial disorders can lead to neuropathy (a type of dementia) and nervous system disorders such as Leigh disease.
In a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the OHSU team described successfully transferring DNA from donor cells into other donor cells, fertilizing the eggs to create 13 tiny early embryos of roughly 100 cells each. These pre-embryos, called blastocysts, were converted to embryonic stem cells for future research.
Key to the technique: replacing the defective mitochondrial DNA with healthy genetic material from the egg of a second woman.