Researchers in Oregon on Wednesday reported they had created the world's first fully formed, cloned monkey embryos and harvested batches of stem cells from them - a feat that, if replicated in people, could allow production of replacement tissues or organs with no risk of rejection.
Successful creation of the cloned embryos, each from a single monkey skin cell, effectively settles a long-standing scientific debate about whether primates - the family that includes monkeys and people - are biologically incapable of being cloned, as some had come to believe after years of failures.
That fact alone could reinvigorate a stalled congressional battle over whether restrictions on human embryo cloning should be tightened or loosened. Currently such work is legal with private funds but off-limits to federally funded scientists.
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. They destroyed them to retrieve the embryonic stem cells growing inside.
Those cells can morph into every kind of cell and tissue in the body, and the Oregon team has already coaxed theirs to become monkey nerves and heart cells that spontaneously beat in unison in a lab dish.
Because they 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.
"We only work with monkeys," said Shoukhrat Mitalipov, who led the research at the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton. "But we hope the technology we developed will be useful for other laboratories working on human subjects."
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