NEW YORK: Scientists have moved a step closer to the goal of creating stem cells perfectly matched to a patient’s DNA to treat diseases, they said yesterday, creating patient-specific cell lines out of the skin cells of two adult men.
The advance, described online in the journal Cell Stem Cell, is the first time researchers have achieved “therapeutic cloning” of adults. Technically called somatic-cell nuclear transfer, therapeutic cloning means producing embryonic cells genetically identical to a donor, usually for using those cells to treat diseases.
But nuclear transfer is also the first step in reproductive cloning, or producing a genetic duplicate of someone, a technique that has sparked controversy since the 1997 announcement that it was used to create Dolly, the clone of an ewe. In 2005, the United Nations called on countries to ban it, and the US prohibits the use of federal funds for reproductive or therapeutic cloning. The new study was funded by a foundation and the South Korean government and led by Young Gie Chung of Research Institute for Stem Cell Research at CHA Health Systems, Los Angeles.
It could prove significant because many illnesses that might one day be treated with stem cells, such as heart failure and vision loss, primarily affect adults. Patient-specific stem cells would have to be created from older cells, not infant or fetal ones. That looks possible, though far from easy: Out of 39 tries, scientists created stem cells only once for each donor.
Reproductive biologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, who developed the technique the CHA team adapted, said, “The advance is showing that (nuclear transfer) looks like it will work with people of all ages.”