Creation of Kidney from Cloned Cow Embryos May Impact Senate Stem Cell Research, Cloning Debate
The announcement by researchers at a Massachusetts biotechnology company that they have developed functioning "miniature kidneys" by using cells from cloned cow embryos could influence the congressional debate over stem cell research and human cloning, the New York Times reports (Chang, New York Times, 1/31). While the results of the research by Advanced Cell Technology are preliminary and have not been published in a scientific journal, the work could have an "immediat[e]" impact in Congress, as the Senate is debating whether to prohibit the type of cloning that the scientists used to create the kidneys. Last July, the House voted to ban all forms of human cloning. The Senate is considering whether to pass an "identical" bill or a "more narrowly worded" measure that would ban reproductive cloning of humans but would permit therapeutic cloning, or the cloning of human embryonic stem cells for medical research purposes (Weiss, Washington Post, 1/30). A report from the National Academy of Sciences earlier this month recommended a ban on reproductive cloning, but not therapeutic cloning (NSA release, 1/18).
To develop the kidneys, researchers created cloned cow embryos by replacing the DNA in a cow's egg with DNA from a skin cell from a different cow's ear, according to Dr. Robert Lanza, vice president for medical and scientific development at Advanced Cell Technology. The embryos were then allowed to develop into fetuses, from which researchers took "nascent kidney cells," which they developed into a kidney-like organ. The organs were then implanted under the skin of the adult cow that had donated the original ear cell. The kidneys then functioned properly, as toxic substances were filtered and discharged as urine, and none of the cows experiencing organ rejection (New York Times, 1/31). Experts said if Advanced Cell Technology's approach can be used to make human kidneys from cloned human embryos, it could "dramatically reduce" the need for donor kidneys and transplants in the future (Washington Post, 1/30). Organs developed in such a way would be "perfect genetic matches" to the recipients (New York Times, 1/31). The experiment is "proof in principle that 'therapeutic cloning' can work," Lanza said (Washington Post, 1/30).
Despite this optimism, Dr. John Gearhart, a stem cell expert at Johns Hopkins University, said the researchers' use of cow fetuses will "play into fears" that scientists are using cloning for "direct harvesting of body parts." He said, "This is skating very close to a line that is sending the wrong message of what we are tying to do with stem cells. This is not going to be an acceptable procedure we can do" in humans (New York Times, 1/31). He added that it will be necessary to prove that organs can be created from embryonic cells and not fetal tissue, as even supporters of embryonic stem cell research do not favor using human fetuses for research purposes (Washington Post, 1/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.