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Scientists claim they've cloned human embryos
Updated: 2004-02-13 08:46

South Korean researchers reported Thursday they have created human embryos through cloning and extracted embryonic stem cells, the universal cells that scientists expect will result in breakthroughs in medical research.

Hanyang University professor Hwang Yoon-Young said, "Our research team has successfully culled stem cells from a cloned human embryo through mature growing process in a test tube."

A microscopic photo released by Seoul National University shows eight of the cloned embryos.  [AP]
The findings by a team of researchers led by Dr. Hwang Woo Suk of Seoul National University were presented to South Korean scientists and will be published in the U.S. journal Science.

The paper describes a detailed process of how to create human embryos by cloning, saying the scientists used the eggs donated by Korean women.

The technique, scientists said, was not designed to make babies but to further the process known as therapeutic cloning, a possible treatment for a multitude of diseases.

Advances in stem-cell technology have been hailed as holding potential cures for many crippling illnesses, such as diabetes, spinal cord injuries and Parkinson's disease.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, stem cells can be manipulated by scientists to develop into many other human cells.

This undated microscopic photo shows established human embryonic stem cells by somatic cell nuclear transfer during the experiment in Seoul.  [Reuters]
While they can be found in adults, those found in days-old embryos are far more prevalent and more easily manipulated into specialized cells, which then could be used to create cures or even grow replacement organs, the NIH reports.

Stem cell researcher Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, told The Associated Press the experiment proved the cloning technique was possible using human cells.

"That's an important point to prove," he told the AP.

Still, "it's not of practical use at this point," Jaenisch told the news service, stressing that years of additional research were required.

Opponents have said using embryos, even ones just several minutes old, is destroying a human life. Embryos are destroyed when stem cells are removed.

The report already has sparked a renewal of the debate over whether all forms of human cloning should be banned.

"The result of our research proves it is possible scientifically for human cloning, and we are likely to revive the controversy over human cloning," Hwang said.

Although cloning may be technically possible, the moral issues will be the great dilemma, said Arthur Kaplan, medical ethicist and director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics.

"I think the big question is: If you make this kind of thing in a dish, have you created a human life?" Kaplan said. "Can you make something that people have strong moral views about in terms of destroying it, in order to benefit other people? And that's going to be the key debate."

Kaplan said splitting the debate into two issues -- cloning for making babies and cloning for research purposes -- would help in making sensible policy.

Scientists caution it could take years of further research before stem-cell science turns into actual therapies.

Last year, a ban on human cloning passed the U.S. House of Representatives but failed to get approval by the Senate over questions of whether cloning for research purposes could be allowed.

The United Nations decided at the end of last year to delay any decision on a human cloning ban for two years.

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