The First Human Cloned Embryo: An Article Review
This article, “The First Human Cloned Embryo” was written based on the results of a laboratory research conducted by a team of scientists at the Advanced Cell Technology, a biotechnology company located at Worcester, Massachusetts. The scientists and authors are Jose B. Cibelli, Robert P. Lanza, Michael D. West, and Carol Ezzell. Cibellis is the vice president of research of Advanced Cell Technology and his researches were instrumental to the cloning of genetically modified calves. Lanza obtained his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania, wrote for scientific books, and became the vice president of medical and scientific development of the same biotechnology company. West also has a medical degree and he founded a corporation that conducted researches about telomeres, the ends of chromosomes. And Ezzell is the staff writer and editor. Together, these four people reported the results of a laboratory research and their article can be found in the January 2002 edition of the magazine Scientific American. An online version of it can also be obtained from the website of the said magazine. The major purpose of the article is to report an important progress in the field of biotechnology, especially in therapeutic cloning. This progress is found in the results of an experiment that produced the first human cloned embryo. Cloning is already a possibility and has been carried out numerously among plants and animals. But the cloning of whole human beings is not yet entertained because of numerous ethical questions (Green, 2001; Lanza, et al, 2000). Those who are opposed to cloning have raised spiritual and moral questions but the medical potential of cloning is very attractive that many scientists, nevertheless, experimented with the cloning of embryos. This team of scientists at the Advanced Cell Technology, however, proposed a middle ground in which the ethics of cloning is considered while opening up the possibilities of using the technology of cloning to address many diseases. The type of cloning that they propose is called therapeutic cloning.
Cloning, which is also known as nuclear transplantation, is the attempt to copy the genetic material of an organism using a DNA sample of that organism. In this experiment, there were two groups of people who provided their DNA. The first group was composed of 12 healthy women, between 24 and 32 years old, who are willing to contribute their eggs for the experiment. The team emphasized that the eggs will never be developed into babies because such process will again raise many ethical questions. The second group was composed individuals, of various ages, who are donating their fibroblasts – the most numerous of cells found in the connective tissues. Some of them are healthy while others have diabetes or spinal cord injury. These individuals are assumed to be the recipients of the ultimate medical benefits of this experiment. Then, the genetic materials of the mature eggs from the first group were replaced by the nucleus of the cells from the second group using a nuclear transfer technique (Lanza, Cibelli, West, 1999b). The egg cells with different nuclei slowly began to cleave and form daughter cells. But many of the egg cells stopped growing and only a few formed four cells and one reached up to six cells. The four-cell or six-cell products of the experiment are considered as early embryos. Thus, the researchers claimed to have cloned the first human embryo (Cibelli, Lanza, West & Ezzell, 2002).
The reasons why some of the cells produced two cells and others formed four cells were never explained in the article. The researchers acknowledged that many of the factors that affect cloning are still vague. And so they emphasized the medical benefits that can be ultimately obtained because of the results of their experiment. For example, through therapeutic cloning a diabetic patient may have his damaged pancreas replaced. Another example is a woman who is suffering from a cardiovascular disease. She may use her eggs and have a biotechnology laboratory produce blastocysts out of her eggs. The blastocysts, which are made up of 100 or more cells can be transformed into the cells of the heart muscle, which can be implanted into the woman’s heart. The other diseases that the researchers hoped to address include Parkinson’s disease, stroke, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and other autoimmune disorders (Lanza, Cibelli, & West, 1999a).
The mission of therapeutic cloning is noble and if it advances, many people will become more open-minded about it. However, when the article mentioned that therapeutic cloning can also benefit the aging population because the clone cells are younger than the cells of its source, the nobility of the mission was reduced. There is a sense of vanity to the purpose of staying young. Ignoring this small negative impression, the whole scientific research article reflects an important advancement in science and medicine. This article will certainly contribute to further advancement in the field of biotechnology.
Cibelli, J.B., Lanza, R.P., West, M.D. & Ezzell, C. (2002). “The first human cloned embryo.” Scientific American. Retrieved September 19, 2007 at http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=0008B8F9-AC62-1C75-9B81809EC588EF21
Green, R.G. (2001). The human embryo research debates: Bioethics in the vortex of controversy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lanza, R.P., Cibelli, J.B. & West, M.D. (1999a). “Human therapeutic cloning.” Nature Medicine, 5, 9, 975-977.
Lanza, R.P., Cibelli, J.B. & West, M.D. (1999b). “Prospects for the use of nuclear transfer in human transplantation.” Nature Biotechnology, 17, 12, 1171-1174.
Lanza, R.P. et al. (2000). “The ethical validity of using nuclear transfer in human transplantation.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 284, 24.