Cloning Breakthrough: Viable Stem Cells Created From Adult Donor
April 18, 2014

Stem Cells Created From Adult Cells

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

In a significant breakthrough a team of scientists from California and Seoul, South Korea have been able to create viable stem cells from an adult donor that perfectly match the donor’s DNA, according to a new report in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

The development, referred to as "therapeutic cloning,” involves the production of embryonic cells for scientific purposes and many object to this type of research based on moral or religious grounds. Debate over this type of work was stoked in 1997 with the announcement that it was used to create the clone of a sheep, called Dolly. In 2005, the United Nations called for a ban on cloning and the United States government currently prohibits the use of federal dollars for cloning research.

The scientists behind the latest development, which was partially funded by the government of South Korea, acknowledged that if the embryos in their study were implanted in a uterus they could have developed into a fetus.

"Without regulations in place, such embryos could also be used for human reproductive cloning, although this would be unsafe and grossly unethical," study author Dr. Robert Lanza, chief scientist of Massachusetts-based biotech Advanced Cell Technology, told Reuters reporter Sharon Begley.

To produce viable stem cells from an adult donor, the researchers first inserted DNA from an adult skin cell into a donated ovum. The scientists then delivered an electric shock to fuse the genetic material to the ovum. Eventually, the ovum divides and multiplies – becoming a viable embryo in five or six days. Pluripotent stem cells, which can become any type of cell in the body, are located on the interior of this embryo.

Last year, a team of Oregon scientists reported on their success in combining genetic material from fetal and infant cells with DNA-extracted eggs. The team was able to develop their eggs into approximately 150-cell embryos.

The Oregon team said a major aspect of their success was allowing the engineered eggs to sit for 30 minutes before hitting them with the charge of electricity that – like Dr. Frankenstein’s monster – set the eggs on the path to becoming alive.

In the new study, the researchers waited two hours before triggering the egg, which Lanza said allowed them to succeed.

"It gives you time for the massive amount of genetic reprogramming required" for the adult DNA to develop into an embryo, he told Begley.

Although the scientists were able to achieve success, the process is highly inefficient – with the team only able to produce 1 embryo out of 39 tries for each adult donor, ages 35 and 75. According to Lanza, the low success rate and high costs of the techniques means only extremely wealthy individuals would be able to generate stem cells from their own DNA as it currently stands.

The geneticist added that another major barrier to widespread adoption is the lack of donated human eggs – which are extracted through a sometimes painful procedure.

On a more positive note, Lanza said a unique stem cell for each person may not be necessary for stem cell therapies as only "100 human embryonic stem cell lines would generate a complete match for over half the (US) population."