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Scientists Clone Human Embryonic Stem Cells for the First Time

Update Date: May 15, 2013 02:11 PM EDT
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It has been 17 years since Dolly the sheep was first cloned, and since then, many researchers wondered if it would be possible to clone humans. The possibility that has tantalized countless science-fiction authors frightened many lawmakers, and many countries have passed laws making it illegal to place cloned embryos into a human woman's womb.

However, despite the rush to make the practice illegal, human cloning remained a pipe dream - until now. A recent study published in the journal Cell details a technique that has allowed scientists to successfully clone human embryonic stem cells. The study will undoubtedly reignite the debate over the use of embryonic stem cells. However, the researchers say that the embryonic stem cells will never turn into embryos; instead, they want to harness the technology for therapeutic purposes.

According to the Guardian, the researchers started from human skin cells. Using a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer, which takes DNA from the skin cells and inserts them into egg cells, the researchers manipulated the cells to divide. Time magazine reports that the resulting cells contain embryonic stem cells, which, in turn, can turn into cells from any portion of the body. Starting from eight cells, the researchers were able to create four stem cell lines.

Bloomberg reports that the researchers honed a variety of techniques that contributed to their success. In order to increase the efficiency of the cells, they turned to a surprising ally: caffeine. Timing the transfer to when the cells were at their best state to transfer was also important. The researchers also used high-quality cells, suggesting that previous studies had been limited by the quality of their cells.

It remains to be seen whether the technique will cause the embryonic stem cells to be better than the induced pluripotent cells, or human cells that are converted back to stem cells, or whether it will work as well with adult cells or in regions where healthy egg cells are not as plentiful. Regardless, researchers are hopeful that the science behind the study could help create regenerative medicine that could benefit patients with conditions as varied as Parkinson's disease and diabetes.

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