Australia to Clone Human Embryos for Stem Cell Research
Australian in-vitro fertilization firm Sydney IVF has been granted a license to clone human embryos in order to obtain embryonic stem cells. The firm reports that it has 7,200 human eggs available towards this research, and if they are successful in extracting embryonic stem cells it would be a world first.
Embryonic research is a widely disputed issue, and so far no one has ventured into this territory with human embryos. Scientists have produced stem cells that they believe are similar using various techniques, but none have extracted from a cloned human embryo. Many countries have banned this practice.
An Australian ban on the research, known as therapeutic cloning or somatic cell nuclear transfer, was lifted in December 2006 after a rare conscience vote in the national parliament.
But the use of excess IVF embryos and the creation and use of other embryos in research is restricted by law through national legislation. Human cloning for reproductive purposes is banned.
Chair of the NHMRC's licensing committee, Dr John Findlay, said Sydney IVF's research would be closely monitored.
"They have been given a license to do therapeutic cloning," Findlay told Reuters, adding the scientists are not licensed to reach the fetal stage.
"They can go to the stage called blastocyst. They must stop at that point," he said. The blastocyst is a very early-stage embryo not yet implanted into the womb.
The issuing of this license has been opposed; critics say that while there are stringent guidelines and measures in place to monitor the research in Australia, if the scientists are successful and their research becomes public, there is no telling what other countries or groups may do with that information.
Embryonic stem cells, made from days-old embryos, are considered the most powerful because they can give rise to all the cell types in the body.
Sydney IVF said only eggs that were unusable for IVF because they were immature or had not been fertilized properly, and which donors had given consent for, would be used in the research.
The firm said it will use three different types of cells, embryonic stem cells, cumulus cells attached to the collected eggs, and skin cells, to produce the cloned embryos.
Sydney IVF was the first, in 2004, to extract stem cells from Australian IVF embryos, and has since extracted and grown 10 more colonies of embryonic stem cells this way.