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HFEA considers application to clone human embryos
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) will consider today the first application to license work to clone human embryos to treat disease. Researchers from Newcastle have applied to use the technology that created Dolly the sheep, cell nuclear replacement (CNR), to clone the embryos. In CNR, the nucleus is removed from an unfertilised egg and replaced with DNA from the donor. The egg is then stimulated as if it were being fertilised; the resulting embryo is cultured to the stage where it starts producing stem cells. The stem cells will be genetically identical to the donor and can then be implanted without fear of rejection. In the Newcastle study, if successful, the stem cells will be used to explore future treatments for diabetes. Future applications may include treating those with other conditions such as spinal cord damage.
In order to create stem cells that are genetically identical to the donor, embryos must be cloned rather than using existing embryos. Cloning human embryos for therapeutic purposes is legal, however, the procedure is similar to that of reproductive human cloning (cloning to make another human being), which is illegal in the UK. This has caused opponents to send letters to the HFEA asking that they reject the license application. They fear that the information gained from the research will not produce effective therapies but will provide information to those who wish to clone human beings. As Dr David King, from the pressure group Human Genetics Alert, told the BBC, “This research is a waste of public money, and crosses important ethical lines for the first time.” Others disagree. Alistair Kent, Director of the Genetics Interest Group, believes the research is necessary. "If we don't do the research, and it does have the potential, then we are not only ignoring the needs of those who are alive now, but also all future generations as well." The HFEA is expected to announce its decision next week.