Dolly's creator granted human cloning license
LONDON - The scientist who created Dolly the sheep,
the world's first cloned mammal, was granted a license Tuesday to clone human
embryos for medical research.
Professor Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, plans to obtain stem cells for research into Motor Neurone Disease (MND), a procedure that divides the medical world along ethical lines.
Britain's cloning watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), granted the license Tuesday to Wilmut, Dr Paul de Sousa from Edinburgh and Professor Christopher Shaw from King's College London.
"Our aim will be to generate stem cells purely for research purposes," Wilmut said in a statement. "This is not reproductive cloning in any way."
Human reproductive cloning is illegal in Britain but therapeutic cloning, creating embryos as a source of stem cells to cure diseases, is allowed on an approved basis.
Stem cells are the body's master cells. Those from days-old embryos have the ability to form any kind of tissue and scientists are working to learn how to manipulate them for transplants to treat diseases ranging from diabetes to cancer and MND.
The practice has divided the medical world. Opponents argue the use of a human embryo for medical research or even treatment is unethical.
US President Bush says he plans to press for even stricter limits on human embryo research.
But the British group said the stem cell technique would greatly enhance their understanding of MND and accelerate the discovery of new drugs.
"We have spent 20 years looking for genes that cause MND and to date we have come up with just one gene," Shaw said. "This is potentially a big step forward,"
The egg will be stimulated to develop into an embryo and allowed to develop for about six days, when the stem cells will be extracted.
The scientists will compare the stem cells with both healthy and diseased cells from patients to better understand the illness and to test potential medicines.
MND affects nerve cells that carry instructions from the brain to the muscles. It weakens muscles and causes paralysis but the patient's brain is not affected. Last August, a team of scientists from Newcastle University in northern England was granted a license to clone human embryos to develop new treatments for diabetes and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.