Should we be worried about a return to therapeutic cloning?

Publié le : 7 May 2014

 Ever since the birth of Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned, in 1996, the question of therapeutic cloning disappeared. But two back-to-back publications are apparently changing the tone (Gènéthique press review on April 21st, 2014 and on April 28th, 2014). Is therapeutic cloning set to return and should we be worried about it?

Michel de Pracontal, scientific journalist, debates the point on the Mediapart website.

He started off by stating that the technique used for Dolly, namely “nucleus transfer cloning”, “does not necessarily lead to the reproduction of a living organism”. In 1996, biologists actually thought that, if progress was being made, it would not be achieved by multiplying sheep but “through producing precious stem cells on request that would subsequently be used as ‘spare parts’ for the body“, by culturing the cloned embryo and not by reimplanting it.

Therapeutic cloning is not easy to implement. The journalist mentioned the fact that both primates and man “were particularly refractory to cloning“, and a large number of attempts have failed.            

Difficulties still persist today as proven by the fact that oocyte biopsy required by Dieter Egli’s team (Gènéthique press review on April 28th, 2014) is not “a trivial procedure.  It is performed under anaethesia which limits the number of donors”.     
Finally, Michel de Pracontal commented on the fear surrounding cloning, i.e. through the birth of a cloned baby, for instance.  This has led many countries to ban the practice, following in France’s footsteps. Consequently, technical and ethical obstacles surround therapeutic cloning, thereby hampering research in this area.
As far back as 2007, scientist Shinya Yamanaka and Nobel prize winner for medicine, published research on “induced pluripotent cells” or “IPS”, which also allow differentiated adult cells to be obtained. The benefits of the technique? Oocytes are not required and regardless of whether or not an embryo is used or created, the technique crosses ethical barriers.

Will this success lead researchers to grant access to therapeutic cloning in order to obtain differentiated adult cells? This is contrary to biologist Dieter Egli’s standpoint, who “believes in the future of personalised cell therapy”. According to Marc Peschanski, Director of I-Stem, “IPS cells are simpler to use. Cloning cells with the genetic heritage of a specific individual is already rather ambitious.  I don’t think we can realistically apply this method to a large number of patients“.

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