Earlier this month, scientists used skin cells to clone embryonic stem cells in the first experiment to do so. Now for the second time this month, another group of scientists used cloning technology to make human embryonic stem cells.
The work was published today in the journal Nature and was conducted by researchers at the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF). Led by Dieter Egli, the researchers were able to clone embryonic stem cells that used DNA from a 32-year-old woman with Type-1 Diabetes, which is a major breakthrough in terms of being able to fight disease.
The first successful study of this nature cloned embryonic stem cells using skin cells from two men aged 35 and 75 years. Robert Lanza, one of the scientists involved in that study, believed that the age difference in the cell cloning was crucial in dealing with various diseases that become more common as one’s age progresses. Their finding was a precursor to the New York Stem Cell Foundation’s finding.
Dr. Egli and his team used the technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, in which the nucleus is removed from a normal cell as well as a human egg cell, and then the nucleus from the skin cell is injected into the donor egg cell. In their study, the DNA from a woman with Type-1 Diabetes was injected into the egg cell for replication. The beta cells in the experiment produced insulin.
“This is a really important step forward in our quest to develop healthy, patient-specific stem cells that can be used to replace cells that are diseased or dead,” said Susan Solomon, chief executive officer of NYSCF, in this National Geographic article.
“I think this is going to become reality,” added Dr. Egli in this NBC News article. “It may be a bit in the future but it is going to happen.”
However, there are some issues associated with stem cell research, even with this breakthrough discovery. First of all, it’s difficult to obtain egg cells, or oocytes, and ethical questions remain on the subject of women being paid to donate theirs. Additionally, scientists need to find a way to defeat autoimmunity in this potential diabetes replacement therapy. The body’s immune system will attack the beta cells, so the process would be ineffective until this is solved.
Nonetheless, this is a notable discovery that will pave the way for future stem cell research.