GENETIC RESEARCH: Embryo Splitting Produces Monkey Clone
Using a technique called embryo splitting, researchers at Portland's Oregon Health Sciences University have produced the first living rhesus monkey using this procedure. Although the female primate's genetic twin was miscarried, researchers hope the other split embryos will fare better, producing "identical monkeys born to [four] different mothers." Researcher Gerald Schatten said the goal of the study, published in today's Science journal, is to "produce identical monkeys that could be used to perfect new therapies for human disease," including diabetes and heart and liver ailments. Schatten said, "Medical research needs to have healthy, genetically identical animals so cures can be perfected before they are tested on humans." Currently, genetically engineered mice are used, but monkeys are more reliable because of their similar biology to humans. Schatten added, "It is a huge leap from a mouse to a patient. The monkeys could fill that scientific gap" (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/14). Noting the impact this could have on stem-cell research, Schatten said the possibilities could revolutionize current research and "completely change the lives of children" (Connor, New York Post, 1/14).
But not everyone is thrilled by what this new technology has to offer. Health advocacy group Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) opposes these experiments, saying they "perpetuate the wrong kind of research." Protesting on scientific and ethical grounds, PCRM President Dr. Neal Barnard said, "Making one monkey more similar to another does not make them any more like humans. They are not good models for human health problems. In fact, animal experimentation does a terrible disservice to people with chronic diseases. Ironically, at a time when we are better able than ever before to study the human body ... these experimenters are wasting valuable time focusing on monkeys." He added, "These animals suffer terribly in the research lab. Just when people are beginning to understand how intelligent and sensitive rhesus monkeys are, researchers want to turn them into patentable products" (PCRM release, 1/13). This type of cloning differs from that done with the Scottish ewe Dolly, which used genetic material from an adult. This technique resembles the process in which identical infants develop from the same embryo (AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 1/14).