Harvard to Try Therapeutic Cloning
Harvard to Try Therapeutic Cloning
Well, I completely blew off yesterday and as a result I missed one of the more publicized stories in a while. It’s not actually a surprise, since in a story a few weeks ago about UCSF beginning to work on cloning, it was mentioned that Harvard would be doing the same and the announcement would be out later. Later was yesterday. It’s still hitting the news today too, in the form of print sources that had gone to press already when the announcement was made.
So, I’m just going to provide bits and pieces of some of the articles and salient facts.
Reuters: Harvard has gone to great lengths to separate all funding from federal dollars. All money is private. The research will begin by taking cells from skin and inserting them into an egg; the researchers eventually hope to be able to use an embryonic stem cell instead of a skin cell in order to do basic biological research about cell development and cloning technology. (My own note—there would be no direct therapeutic purpose to creating a clone of an embryo, since an embryonic stem cell can’t be treated for disease.)
Time Magazine: Egg donor recruitment will begin in the Boston area. The story says this is the first American academic program to begin cloning research with fresh eggs. Donors will not be compensated, but they may receive reimbursement for some of their expenses (such as travel and child care). The Institutional Review Board took 2 years to approve the study. Some of the skin cells are being donated by patients with diabetes at Columbia Hospital in New York for a study that will focus on diabetes. Other researchers will study nerve diseases such as ALS or blood diseases. One goal of the diabetes research is to eventually allow patients to create their own insulin producing pancreatic cells.
CBS (with info from AP): No further hard news, but some interesting quotations from researchers and opponents, including this from Bishop Tad Pacholczyk: “you are creating life precisely to destroy it. You are making young humans simply to strip-mine them for their desired cells and parts. And that is at root a fundamentally immoral project that cannot be made moral, no matter how desirable the cells might be that would be procured.”
Washington Post: Researchers hope that women who have relatives with some of the studied diseases might be among the egg donors. The basic aim right now is to understand the diseases; therapies are still at least a decade away. There is collaboration from Columbia University and the New York Stem Cell Foundation.
Boston Globe: Lengthy article, you may have to register to read the whole thing. The project went through eight committees. There are two separate research teams involved, one at the university and one at the Children’s Hospital in Boston. This article mentioned that some liberal, pro-choice people oppose cloning on the grounds of risks to the egg donors, although they support other kinds of embryonic stem cell research. (Personal note—a very liberal doctor friend of mine takes this stance, and it is one of my concerns too, given the risks and pain involved in the egg donation procedure.) The researchers will begin work with eggs that were unable to fertilize when combined with sperm during fertility treatments, but they think it will be more difficult to coax these into becoming an embryo. The private company ACT has been trying unsuccessfully to recruit women for six months, but potential donors so far have decided not to go ahead because of the lack of compensation (they could get thousands at fertility clinics).
That should give you a fair sampling. All of the articles give good descriptions of the SCNT procedure. It looks to me as though egg donation is going to be the next key media focus of stem cell research. I must admit that I don’t understand how fertility clinic donors can receive compensation—it seems like selling biological material to me. Reimbursement is one thing, compensation is another. I expect there are details that I am not aware of, since it is widely done and is not illegal.