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One of benefits of human cloning, we were told, would be the ability to clone someone with a disease like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s in America, motor neurone disease in the UK and elsewhere), to obtain stem cells from the embryo for disease study. Indeed, before he decided to abandon cloning in favor of iPSCs, that is precisely what Ian Wilmut had a license to do in the UK.

Well, so far no human cloned embryonic stem cells have been derived despite years of trying. But in less than one year since the first iPSC human line was created, that precise achievement has already been accomplished. From the Harvard-Columbia press release:

Harvard and Columbia scientists have for the first time used a new technique to transform an ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) patient’s skin cells into motor neurons, a process that may be used in the future to create tailor-made cells to treat the debilitating disease. The research—led by Kevin Eggan, Ph.D. of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute—will be published July 31 in the online version of the journal Science.

This is the first time that skin cells from a chronically-ill patient have been reprogrammed into a stem cell-like state, and then coaxed into the specific cell types that would be needed to understand and treat the disease.

Though cell replacement therapies are probably still years away, the new cells will solve a problem that has hindered ALS research for years: the inability to study a patient’s motor neurons in the laboratory.
An amazing achievement. Thanks, in my opinion, partly to President Bush’s courage, biotechnology is now moving in the right direction. Think of it: no women’s health endangered from egg extraction, no instrumentalization of human life, few brave new world worries. A true win-win.

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