Nov 15, 2007 / 13:08 pm America/Denver (CNA).
Yesterday, Oregon-based scientist Shoukrat Mitalipov succeeded in cloning monkey embryos and deriving embryonic stem cells from them. The Westchester Institute, a Catholic ethics think-tank that has engaged in the stem cell debate, reacted with concern to the announcement calling the breakthrough a “double-edged sword.”
In a press release on Wednesday, the Executive Director, Fr. Thomas Berg stated, "Insomuch as research on cloned primates can provide basic biological insights into human disease and tissue growth, this is a golden opportunity. The risk lies in applying the cloning technique to humans. Such a pursuit, if successful, would be one of humanity's darkest endeavors."
Mitalipov's success with monkey embryo cloning provides the theoretical foundation for scientists to pursue so-called "therapeutic" cloning in humans. Embryonic stem cells from a cloned human embryo, because they would be genetically identical to a patient, could be used in potential treatments without prompting an immune rejection response. However, the scientific community generally agrees that prospective treatments from embryonic stem cells are likely many years away.
"Notwithstanding this new breakthrough, it's still not clear that researchers will have success if they apply Mitalipov's techniques to human cells," said Fr. Berg. "It would be unfortunate to divert time, energy, and funding into human cloning, when much needed insights into treating human diseases and maladies can be garnered just as easily from cloned monkeys.
"I spoke with Dr. Mitalipov and he himself underlined how this new kind of research in monkey cloning can actually further our pursuit of ethically uncontroversial alternatives in stem cell research, such as direct cell reprogramming," continued Fr. Berg. "If scientists can learn how monkey egg cells reprogram body cells to an embryonic-like state, this could give us the key to reprogramming human body cells without having to damage or destroy, let alone clone, human embryos."