Last Wednesday, scientists shared that they have made a groundbreaking achievement in terms of stem cell research regarding personalized stem cells. This finding relives the interest in this field which has been frequently bombarded with fraud and ethical dilemmas.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cells which in time, differentiates and naturally changes to various cells, tissues and organs of the body. These stem cells have been the subject of many researchers in the hopes of replacing damaged and diseased organs and tissues.
The basis for stem cell research is basically taking undifferentiated stem cells from early stage embryos which have been “cloned” with a DNA similar to that of the patient. Through this “cloning” method, the body recognizes the stem cells are one of their own and does not attack them after being transplanted, unlike the organ and tissue rejection which happens commonly nowadays. The cloning technique is carried out by taking an egg cell and removing its nucleus which contains the important DNA sequence. After that, the nucleus of the cell from the donor is fused in the empty core of the egg cell. After that, the egg is bathed in nutrients, divides and followed by the reprogramming of the genetic code.
It can be remembered that last 2004, South Korean stem cell expert Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk announced to the world that he has produced a wide array of stem cells derived from a cloned human embryo. However, his glory was short lived when it was discovered that he had faked his results and illegally and unethically obtained the eggs.
The group of Dieter Egli from the New York Stem Cell Foundation made use of an egg cell, added DNA from a donor cell and it resulted to a triploid cell—that which contains three sets of chromosome, 23 from the egg cell, and 46 from the donor cell. The researchers that there are signs of normal embryonic stem cells but the journal Nature said that these triploids are genetically abnormal and not viable. “It is not yet clear how triploid cells would mimic the behaviour of cells in tissue. No-one will be calling them clinically relevant any time soon.”
The challenge for the researchers is to produce a normal diploid—the one with 46 chromosomes, similar to a normal man’s. But then, there is always an anticipated ethical dilemma that will cloud these researches as it will entail the destruction of an embryo and bring up fears of reproductive cloning.
The researchers have been very keen about terms used in their study so as not to stir up any debacle from political and religious groups. The researchers said that they have used “eggs” from paid volunteers and are cautious about using the term embryo. Instead of cloning, the researchers introduced that the DNAs of the donor cells were “reprogrammed” to a primitive state.
Nature said that despite these claims, “the latest achievement points in the same direction as Hwang’s claims.” Nature also added that “(…) This might be a good time for the United Nations to hammer out cloning regulations or restrictions, which have been hamstrung by political and religious debate.”