Opportunity missed

Major scientific journals this week, are again covering the work of the South Korean Scientist who fraudulently claimed in 2005 to have produced stem cells from cloned human embryos.

In fact, what he did inadvertently achieve, was something far less ethically challenging and still with vast therapeutic value; that is to produce stem cells from human eggs alone, and no nasty cloning involved. The eggs are produced by parthenogenesis, or ‘virgin birth’ and without fertilisation by sperm (…more food for thought). It is a form of asexual reproduction found in insects, lizards and sharks, but not naturally in mammals — all the cell’s DNA comes from the mother. Am I loosing you here?

stem_cells.jpgEmbryotic stem cells that are the ‘body’s master cells’ with the potential to differentiate into any cell type in the body. They can be used to replace lost, diseased or aging cells and therefore carry their weight in gold (… or diamonds) for therapeutic disease research. For stem cells to survive however, they need to be genetically matched to the patient. This would mean, in effect, cloning that person, as an embryo— all of which raises difficult ethical questions. The ability to produce stem cells from human eggs alone avoids this problem.

As always, life just doesn’t seem fair. While Hwang awaits trial for admittedly one of the most notorius scientific scandals of our time, other scientists reap the benefits of his breakthough. Nevertheless, your stem cells will be out there, in the future, helping you to overcome whatever life and nature throws at you.

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