Researchers at Harvard University in the US have asked for permission to produce cloned human embryos. One research team, led by Doug Melton and Kevin Eggan, has asked the university's stem cell ethics committee for permission to make embryos cloned from people with type 1 diabetes, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.
Melton's team hopes to be able to take skin cells from patients with the conditions and use those cells to create cloned embryos from which they can derive stem cells that have the same genetic make-up as the patients. By studying what happens as the stem cells mature into cells affected with the specific conditions, the scientists hope to learn much more about the underlying causes and progression of the diseases.
Another Harvard team, led by George Daley and Leonard Zon, want to use cloned embryos to study bone marrow and immune system disorders, but has not yet submitted an application. All the researchers are part of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, which was established earlier this year to conduct human embryonic (ES) stem cell research and analyse its ethical implications. In the US, most ES cell research has to be conducted using private funds, since President Bush restricted federally-funded researchers to working on ES cell lines created before 9 August 2001. Melton, co-director of the Institute, said that 'this is exactly the kind of work we envisioned'.
In 2002, George Daley, with other colleagues, reported that genetic defects in mice had been corrected using ES cells derived from cloned mouse embryos. Daley and Zon plan to develop similar work using human ES cells. They have spent almost a year ensuring that 'everything is done right' while preparing to begin the experiments. 'That means making sure that everyone in the research administration appreciates what's going on and approves of the methods and regulations for doing our work', said Daley. Speaking to the Scientist, he said that they had hoped it would not be reported before the actual application was made, but that they had been 'scooped' by the Boston Globe newspaper.