Stem cells continue to be an important topic in science and they comprise one of the most exciting areas of research today. The enthusiasm for stem cell research relates to the vast potential of stem cells to treat an enormous range of diseases, particularly ones that have high morbidity and mortality rates. The results of a recent experiment were particularly promising when a cloned human embryo was created from a skin cell, which marked the first time this had been accomplished. The widespread interest in this specific experiment occurred because we may now be able to offer stem cells that are compatible to the unique body and needs of a patient.
Previous Research in Cloning
Prior to the discovery, there had been a cloned human embryo created, but this was made from stem cells that are not typically available from patients, which meant that although the research itself suggested future promise for cloning, the experiment performed simply was not practical in terms of implementing the procedure.
Benefits of Newer Research
In this recent research, the embryo from the skin cell avoids the pitfalls of previous research. The researchers’ goal was create an embryo that would allow them to extract human embryonic stem cells. These specific stem cells are considered the ‘gold’ standard of stem cells because all of the body’s tissues are produced from these stem cells. Removing the stem cells and then coaxing them to grow into the desired tissue can treat patients for virtually any disease. The key benefit with this procedure is that concerns of rejection can be avoided. Normally, a patient who receives stem cells from another source can reject the cells. This occurs when their body identifies the cells as foreign and thus, wages an attack on the transplanted cells. It is a major concern for scientists and has been a huge challenge to overcome. Because the stem cells originated from the patient receiving the transplant, the cells are compatible with that person’s body and are not likely to be rejected by the patient.
The Procedure for Creating the Cloned Embryo
Researchers initially began the experiment with skin cells that were provided by two male volunteers. Three female volunteers undergoing fertility treatments provided the eggs. To create the cloned human embryo, researchers use somatic cell nuclear transfer, which involved removing the DNA from the egg and then introducing the DNA from a skin cell by combining the two. They managed to create twenty-one embryos but only five of these survived and grew into blastocysts. The blastocysts are small clusters of cells from which stem cells are extracted.
Previous claims of this procedure by other researchers had ultimately turned out to be fraudulent. Hence, the scientific community required strict proof of the cloning. Of the five embryos, three showed the DNA from the man’s skin cell, which proved that it had essentially been programmed to become an embryo. Another aspect of the proof was demonstrated when one of the three embryos showed mitochondrial DNA from the woman who provided the egg. The mitochondrial DNA is derived from the egg lining and it holds the ‘manual’ for programming the skin cell back into an embryo. This reprogramming of the skin cell is necessary for cloning. In addition, results were verified using DNA fingerprinting.
The Downside of the Experiment
Unfortunately, researchers were still unable to actually extract the stem cells, despite successfully producing a cloned human embryo. Without actually identifying and extracting stem cells from the embryo, they can’t apply the procedure in a practical sense. They do, however, hope to continue their research with the ultimate goal of extending the recent breakthrough into a feasible reality.
Future Hope for Stem Cell Research
While this newest research on stem cells is promising, it still demonstrates the complexity of stem cell research and its applications. It is, however, one important step towards making the procedure a reality and hopefully, continued research will provide the knowledge necessary to treat those with one of the many serious diseases faced by humans today.