Creation of human embryonic stem cells: the return of so-called therapeutic cloning

Publié le : 22 May 2013

 The recent discovery made by American researchers, published in the scientific journal Cell, aimed at creating human embryonic stem cell, is announced by the press as a "major advance for regenerative medicine.

The team of Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov from the Oregon Health and Science University in the United States has succeeded in "creating human embryonic stem cells that are genetically identical to those of the person from whom they are derived," by using a "cloning technique." To do this, the researchers transferred into an ovule, whose nucleus had been removed beforehand, the nucleus of skin cells taken from a foetus, or the nucleus of skin cells taken from a newborn infant of eight months (suffering from Leigh syndrome). The scientific journal Cell points out that for this research the ovules were obtained from women aged 23 to 31 after ovarian stimulation.
According to Dr Mitalipov, "the stem cells obtained by this technique have shown their capability to differentiate like normal embryonic stem cells into different types of cells: nerve, liver and heart cells." Although "a lot of work needs to be done before we can develop treatments … that are safe and effective," he still considers that "this breakthrough represents a big step forward in the creation of stem cells that can be used in regenerative medicine."   
Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley, chairman of the pro-life committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reacted to this publication in a press release calling attention to the fact that these research results "will be taken up by those who want to produce cloned children as ‘copies’ of other people. […] Whether used for one purpose or the other, human cloning treats human beings as products, manufactured to order to suit other people’s wishes."

Note from Gènéthique:

The enthusiasm of the press when reporting on this discovery needs to be moderated owing to the ethical problems that it raises:   
First of all, and contrary to what the press reports, this discovery that creates human embryonic stem cells involves the creation of embryos obtained not by fertilization but by cloning. The new feature of this discovery lies in the improvement of the cloning technique: researchers have been able to obtain stem cells from a cloned embryo one week old in order to obtain human embryonic cells. So this inevitably involves the destruction of the embryo that was created.          
Hence this technique necessitates the creation of embryos intended solely for research, which is prohibited in France, for example, for ethical reasons, either through in vitro fertilization or by cloning.
Secondly, it must be pointed out that the numerous ovules necessary for this discovery were obtained through intensive ovarian stimulation (10 ovules from each woman), a technique that carries risks, notably of cancer. The publication specifies that the women were paid compensation. 

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