California firm’s cloning results are disturbing; may violate state law
Public interest group cites three key concerns
(This statement can be attributed to Marcy Darnovsky, Associate Executive Director, Center for Genetics and Society)
Today's announcement that a private California company has created cloned human embryos is disturbing. This work raises three concerns.
First, the acquisition of the human eggs needed for cloning-based stem cell research puts women's health at risk. Second, it opens the door to reproductive cloning, which is not prohibited by federal law or laws in the majority of states. Third, it is highly unrealistic that research cloning can lead to custom treatments for patients, despite the company's claims of therapeutic potential.
Especially in light of recent developments in cell reprogramming - which has the potential to provide disease-specific stem cells without the problems raised by cloning-based stem cell research - this technique is not justifiable at this time.
Stemagen's protocol relies on obtaining eggs from women who provided them for prospective parents undergoing assisted reproduction. While the paper notes that neither the egg providers nor the prospective parents were paid by the researchers, it is likely that the egg providers were paid by the prospective parents.
This arrangement would violate both the spirit and potentially the letter both of California's law and its guidelines governing stem cell research that is not funded by the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM). It would be explicitly prohibited by CIRM's regulations, and any stem cell lines derived under such an arrangement would be ineligible for CIRM funding.
Stemagen's relationships with the fertility clinics where the eggs were obtained are also problematic. Since the fertility doctors are named as co-authors of the scientific paper, they had a professional incentive to use an aggressive protocol that would yield larger numbers of eggs, but would also increase the chance of triggering adverse reactions that could threaten the women's health.
We call on California officials to conduct a thorough review of the procedures used by Stemagen to determine if any violations of state regulations or law were involved.
While most embryonic stem cell research uses embryos that were created but not used for assisted reproduction, some scientists want to derive stem cells from cloned embryos. Despite years of work, progress in cloning-based stem cell research has been slow. Such cloning is difficult in part because it requires fresh human eggs, whose extraction puts women's health at risk. Although Hwang Woo-Suk claimed cloning success in 2005, his results were fraudulent and he obtained human eggs in an unethical and illegal manner. Stemagen now appears to have created the first human cloned embryos. However, no one has yet derived stem cells via cloning. Last November, scientists in Wisconsin and Japan isolated stem cells through a new method, cell reprogramming. These stem cells have the desirable characteristics that motivate advocates of cloning methods, but would require the use of neither cloning nor embryos.
The Center for Genetics and Society is a public affairs and policy advocacy organization. It supports embryonic stem cell research under conditions of responsible societal oversight and regulation.