Researchers have wondered for years if it would be possible to clone primates. The answer is now in - yes. Researchers in Oregon announced that they have succeeded in cloning rhesus monkeys by taking the nuclei of skin cells from a nine year-old monkey and installing them in monkey eggs whose nuclei have been removed. In addition, the researchers have extracted embryonic stem cells which have been transformed into heart and nerve cells.
The Washington Post reports:
The Oregon researchers did not transfer the embryos to female monkeys' wombs to grow into full-blown clones, as has been done with several other species. The scientists destroyed them to retrieve the embryonic stem cells growing inside...
Because the stem cells were grown from cloned embryos, those cells are genetically matched to the monkey that donated the initial skin cells. That means that any tissues or organs grown from them could be transplanted into that monkey without the need for immune-suppressing drugs.
Researchers believe that if it can be done with monkeys, that it can also be done with humans. Naturally, this advance will reawaken the debate over whether or not it is ethical to create cloned human embryos to produce stem cell therapies. Another often invoked worry is that women will be "exploited" for their eggs for therapeutic cloning research and treatments. As the Post notes:
Practical and ethical hurdles to growing personalized tissues for people are still great, because the still-inefficient technique requires large numbers of women's eggs, whose retrieval poses medical risks, and because the process would involve creating and destroying human embryos, which many social conservatives reject."Thousands of women's eggs will be required just for scientists to work on improving the technique for use in humans," said Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.), who has repeatedly filed legislation to ban human embryo cloning. The research, he said, "would take us down the treacherous path where women are exploited for their eggs."
Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, praised the work and tried to allay fears that it would speed the creation of a cloned baby."This quest to develop stem cells is not an attempt to clone humans or non-human primates, and I want to affirm in the strongest possible terms my opposition to such cloning," he said.