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Cloning Technique to Make Human Stem Cells

Breakthrough bypasses need to use cells from fertilized embryos

WebMD News from HealthDay

By EJ Mundell

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, May 15 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists report they've used a cloning technique to reprogram an ordinary human skin cell to become an embryonic stem cell. In turn, the new stem cell has the potential to transform into any type of cell in the body.

Besides marking a breakthrough in stem cell technology, which has the potential to one day cure a myriad of illnesses, the achievement has some concerned that scientists are moving a step closer to human cloning.

That's because the new stem cell is genetically identical to cells from the person from whom it was derived. Stem cells can differentiate into cells for all of the tissue types that the body needs, such as nerves, muscle and bone.

While Dolly the Sheep was cloned in 1996, and other species have been cloned since, researchers have been unable to clone a primate such as a monkey, chimpanzee or human. However, the technological advances described in the new study are such that "it's a matter of time before they produce a cloned monkey," Jose Cibelli, a cloning expert at Michigan State University who wasn't involved in the study, told the Wall Street Journal.

The new research was published online May 15 in the journal Cell, and was led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov, a senior scientist at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, in partnership with researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).

The research involved a version of what's known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, where the cell's nucleus -- which contains all a person's genetic information -- is transferred into an egg cell that has had all of its DNA removed. Once the new nucleus is in place, the unfertilized egg cell proceeds to develop and produce stem cells, according to an OHSU news release.

"Stem cells derived through this technique demonstrated their ability to convert just like normal embryonic stem cells, into several different cell types, including nerve cells, liver cells and heart cells," Mitalipov said in the news release. "While there is much work to be done in developing safe and effective stem cell treatments, we believe this is a significant step forward in developing the cells that could be used in regenerative medicine."

Regenerative medicine is the term used to describe therapies where stem cells are used to regenerate tissues lost to illness or injury.

One key point in the new research: Creation of the new, functioning embryonic stem cell did not involve the use of fertilized embryos, the focus of heated debate over the past decade.

Mitalipov's team says the road to success was not easy, because human egg cells seem to be more fragile than those from other species. That meant that methods had to be tested in monkeys first, in a trial-and-error fashion, before moving to human eggs.

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