Thursday, May 19, 2005

Cloning has arrived...

While the US sleeps, leading-edge stem cell research is being done at Seoul National University. (Well, at least California has woken up and is trying to counter the Bush administration's lack of support for stem cell research by using state funds.)

The Korean lab can produce one clone per 17 donor eggs. That means the cost per clone is similar to that of an IVF cycle - or less than $5k. I imagine in a decade wealthy people (perhaps everyone?) will have access to a supply of their own stem cells. Also, women who are past reproductive age could choose to have a clone child, using their own or a relative or friend's genetic material.

Of course, some US religious fundamentalists (like our president) will fight these developments. Are we ready for the coming clone war?

NYT: "In what scientists say is a stunning leap forward, a team of South Korean researchers has developed a highly efficient recipe for producing human embryos by cloning and then extracting their stem cells.

Writing today in the journal Science, they report that they used their method to produce 11 human stem cells lines that are genetic matches of 11 patients aged 2 to 56.

Previously, the same group, led by Dr. Woo Suk Hwang and Dr. Shin Yong Moon of Seoul National University, produced a single stem cell line from a cloned embryo, but the process was so onerous that scientists said it was not worth trying to repeat it, and some doubted the South Koreans' report was even correct.

Now things have changed.

"It is a tremendous advance," said Dr. Leonard Zon, a stem cell researcher at Harvard Medical School and president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, who was not involved in the research.

The method, called therapeutic cloning, is one of the great hopes of the stem cell field. It produces stem cells, universal cells that are extracted from embryos, killing the embryos in the process, and, in theory, can be directed to grow into any of the body's cell types. And since the stem cells come from embryos that are clones of individuals, they should be exact genetic matches. Scientists want to obtain such stem cells from patients to study the origin of diseases and to develop replacement cells that would be identical to ones a patient has lost.

...But this time, with a handful of technical improvements that mostly involved such things as methods for growing cells and breaking open embryos, they used an average of 17 eggs per stem cell line and could almost guarantee success with a single woman's eggs obtained in a single month. And it did not matter if the patient whose cells were being cloned was young or middle aged, male or female, sick or well - the process worked.

"You almost have no reason not to do it," said Dr. Davor Solter, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Immunobiology in Freiberg, Germany.

In fact, Dr. Solter added, it now looks like it is much more efficient to clone and obtain human stem cells than it is to do the same experiment in animals."

10 comments:

Quantoken said...
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Quantoken said...
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steve said...

Quantoken,

Not to offend, but your posts on this blog on physics and cryptography strike me as those of a "non-expert" (I am putting this politely). Ditto for comments from you I have seen on Lubos Motl's blog.

I welcome your contribution here, but want to warn other readers to interpret your comments with caution.

Also, let me say in advance I'm not going to get into an exchange over any of this...

Anonymous said...

Steve wrote, Also, women who are past reproductive age could choose to have a clone child, using their own or a relative or friend's genetic material.

Huh? Reproductive cloning should be classified as a crime against humanity. It's well known that a very large percentage of clones have nasty genetic defects due to problems involved in the cloning process.

Furthermore, there's no need for it. People can always adopt.

--SJF

steve said...

SJF,

I should have mentioned that reproductive cloning still has far to go before it is feasible, for the reason you mentioned.

But, if the problem of genetic defects can be eliminated, I expect that you will see people wanting their own clone children, despite what others may think.

Quantoken said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
steve said...

Quantoken,

1) Our company was acquired in 2003. The bubble burst in 2001. It is debatable whether there was ever a true bubble in Internet security (as opposed to selling pet food online)

2) Our new startup is not building a product based primarily on cryptography. You seem mystified by the job requirements we listed, but perhaps you can figure something out about our new product based on them.

3) SafeWeb customers included: Google, EMC, the World Health Organization, CIA and VOA and many others. Our product is now part of the Symantec product line, which competes in the SSL VPN market (which we pioneered). This is already a multi-$100M market in sales, and growing very rapidly.

I think from now on I may adopt Lubos' earlier policy and start deleting your comments from my blog.

Anonymous said...

steve said, I expect that you will see people wanting their own clone children, despite what others may think.

People want a lot of things. That doesn't mean their wants should be fulfilled.

If reproductive cloning without outsize genetic problems were made possible (as is likely eventually, if not soon), then the arguments against it are weaker. I still don't see any compelling reason for it, given that there are lots of children who need adoption.

On the other hand, germ-line manipulation should never be allowed, except for at most a finite, non-extendable list of genetic diseases, because germ-line manipulation would in the long run threaten to change frequencies in the human gene pool with completely unforseeable consequences. (E.g. a society full of leaders and no followers.)

-- SJF

steve said...

SJF,

I'm not endorsing germ-line manipulation or reproductive cloning. The issues you raise are of real concern.

But, I do feel that they (1) are very likely to be technically feasible in our lifetime and (2) will likely take place, despite any tough restrictions enacted by particular governments.

I think we are very soon going to enter a new phase in human evolution...

Anonymous said...

Steve wrote, (2) will likely take place, despite any tough restrictions enacted by particular governments.

Doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

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