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Illegal Beings: Human Clones

Disease Prevention and Treatment

What is Mammalian Cloning and Why It May Be Important

by Barry Evans

Although cloning has been in effect for the last 20 years, the cloning of whole mammals was not achieved until 1997, when Dr Ian Wilmut cloned the first sheep, called Dolly. This is one of the major advances of the last 10 years in molecular biology, and who knows where it may lead in the future, which is one of the reasons that this area of biology interests me the most out of any recent development.

What Dr Wilmut did to clone dolly is an idea that he had heard in a bar over 10 years ago (1), and went on to carry out what became his dream. To clone dolly, he used a variant technique of nuclear somatic fusion, where he fused a cell from the udder of Dolly’s “mother”, and fused it with an enucleated ovum using a tiny electronic current (2). When this happened a preembryo or blastocyst developed, as the current also activated the egg development. After this the embryo was then implanted back into the mother, and Dr Wilmut finally, after 2 years of constant trying and thousands of aborted attempts, managed to announce to the world the arrival of Dolly to the world. (Below is just a sample picture - not Dolly, see 10)

The technique that Dr Wilmut used may not be viable for the future though. Dolly was the 277th attempt of the year to create a viable mammalian clone from the technique, and was the only success, so who knows if the odds of success are 1 in 300 or 1 in a million (3). Although the technique works in the idea of having a clone, with no paternal genetic input, it is a true clone as it is a perfect replica of its mother 100% of the time, it may not be the correct technique to take the idea further, for example cloning of Human beings.

At the moment, it is impossible to know whether or not it would be possible to continuously clone humans successfully, as a sheep is the only mammal that has been cloned. As with mice, the fact that re-programming may take place a lot earlier than in sheep (the sixteen cell stage instead of the 2 cell stage), may be the reason for an advance in cloning to include humans is at this stage unlikely. The fact that introducing old cells into the embryo, and asking them to form a whole new being may also be a stumbling block, as mutations etc. in the cell may mean that the cell is unable to re-differentiate into say a cardiac cell, as certain proteins may be lost. All of this, and the fact that there is no guarantee that all genetic material will again be re-transcribed and translated, are the current difficulties in being able to clone yourself.
(Information for the above paragraph was taken from source 4)

There are also ethical problems for scientists to overcome if they want to clone a human being. In the USA, both the House of Representatives and the Senate have banned any possibility of human cloning. A little harsh maybe, but when you think that cloning is an idea that Hitler had to form his own super race, than we do have to be a little cautious.

There is one very good reason for cloning humans however. If there is an infertile couple, they will be able to have a clone of them made so that they could have their own genetic offspring, instead of having to rely on someone else to provide either the sperm or ovum. This would make treating infertility much better, as at the moment there is only a 10% success ratio. To make the idea feasible however, there would have to be a much better chance of success than there is currently with Dolly, but in the future, this may be the way forward in infertility treatment. (5)

If a ban on human cloning does stick, then maybe the rules could be relaxed to allow for research into somatic-cell nuclear transfer, which could easily provide numerous benefits (6). This technique is very similar to that which produced Dolly, with either a diploid human somatic cell or fetal cell being introduced to the ovum. There are many complications as with the Dolly technique though. Firstly, id the somatic cell is used a number of transitions will have to be made by the diploid nucleus. The nucleus and therefore cell must be able to produce daughter cells, and then these must be able to differentiate into whatever tissue you want, i.e. be pluripotent. (7)

If the research on this proves fruitful, and the ability to clone things in such a way is achieved, then there are many beneficial outcomes of the cloning. One that comes to mind straight away is in replacing damaged cells, or even whole organs and tissues. Embryonic stem cells can be grown producing things such as hearts and lungs, which could be used in transplants for seriously ill patients, and if the cells come from somewhere in the patient, then there is a vastly reduced chance of rejection of the organ. Individual cells such as brain cells or spinal cord cells may be produced. This can result in reversal of paralysis in people who have been in car or similar accidents, allowing them to walk again, or also repairing brain damage in similar cases. Degenerative genetic diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease may be cured, as can diabetes or arthritis (8). These advantages can also be applied to cloning in pigs for example, and already has been carried out, so can not be the sole reason for approving human cloning.

All of the above diseases can easily be treated successfully using cloning techniques for humans. There is also a case for cloning helping to at least decrease 2 of the top killing diseases in the world, Heart disease and the dreaded cancer. If cloning techniques are successful, as mentioned above it will be possible to produce cardiac muscle cells. If this is then injected into the damaged area of the heart, then regeneration of that area may be possible, reducing the death rate due to heart disease hopefully all over the world.

There is also the chance that a cure for cancer, or at least an understanding of cancer may be found using cloning techniques. Here you will be able to see how cancerous cells “mutiny” against the normal cells in that area. The way that cells switch themselves on and off can be found, which may be a cure. The biology of the cancer cells differentiating may also be found, which will all be useful in cutting down the number of deaths to cancer each year which can only be to our advantage (9).

One other possible outcome of human cloning would be the understanding of the aging process, and therefore the ability to reverse it. This would allow people to stay young and healthy a lot longer, so you could have the greatest footballer in the world being a 90-year-old.

Taking cloning as a whole there is also the advantage that if cloning is allowed, there is the chance that rare species such as the tiger shown below may be cloned so there may never be an extinct animal again. Although bringing back animals that are already extinct may have detrimental effects (e.g. Jurassic Park), there must be a case for keeping all animals that currently roam the earth. Continue...