Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Primate Embryos Signal Cloning Breakthrough

A U.S. scientist said he cloned monkey embryos and extracted stem cells from them, a world first that may help researchers develop new medical treatments.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov, an assistant professor at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, said he used somatic cell nuclear transfer, or so-called therapeutic cloning, to produce 21 embryos from a rhesus macaque monkey. Mitalipov prevented the embryos from growing into fully developed animals.

"It's a major step forward for the field," said Alan Trounson, professor of stem cell science at Monash University in Melbourne. Mitalipov has "sound data" to support his work, Trounson said.

A decade after Scotland's Roslin Institute created Dolly the sheep, scientists have yet to produce primates by the same cloning process. The technique involves removing the nucleus from an egg cell and replacing it with the nucleus of a cell taken from the animal whose tissues would be cloned.

Mitalipov presented his research to the annual meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research Monday in Cairns, Australia. His research hasn't yet been published in any scientific journal.

Mitalipov, who earned a PhD in genetics and biotechnology from the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, moved to Utah State University in 1995 to conduct research in stem cell and developmental biology and has been at the Primate Research Center in Beaverton, Oregon, since 1998.

Trounson said Mitalipov's work is the first major development in therapeutic cloning since Korean researcher Hwang Woo Suk falsely claimed to have created stem cells that have a genetic makeup identical to that of living human adults.

Hwang, whose research was once hailed as a step toward curing diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, faked results of a cloning study in his lab. Both of his research papers published in the journal Science were retracted last year after being found to contain fabricated data.

Embryonic stem cells are among the first cells created after conception. Because they can turn into other types of cells, scientists are investigating their use to replace damaged or missing tissue in the brain, heart and immune system and cure debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Researchers say those uses remain years away.

The research is controversial because extracting the cells by current methods results in the destruction of the embryo they came from.

Using nonhuman primates to research embryonic stem cells provides a model to evaluate the safety, feasibility and efficacy of cell-based therapies, according to the Primate Research Center's Web site.


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