By Elizabeth Landau, CNN, April 28, 2014.
For the first time, cloning technologies have been used to generate stem cells that are genetically matched to adult patients.
Fear not: No legitimate scientist is in the business of cloning humans. But cloned embryos can be used as a source for stem cells that match a patient and can produce any cell type in that person.
Researchers in two studies published this month have created human embryos for this purpose. Usually an embryo forms when sperm fertilizes egg; in this case, scientists put the nucleus of an adult skin cell inside an egg, and that reconstructed egg went through the initial stages of embryonic development.
“This is a dream that we’ve had for 15 years or so in the stem cell field,” said John Gearhart, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Gearhart first proposed this approach for patient-specific stem cell generation in the 1990s but was not involved in the recent studies.
Stem cells have the potential to develop into any kind of tissue in the human body. From growing organs to treating diabetes, many future medical advances are hoped to arise from stem cells. Scientists wrote in the journal Cell Stem Cell this month that they used skin cells from a man, 35, and another man, 75, to create stem cells from cloned embryos.