Scientists in Britain are expecting approval this week for a plan to create cloned human embryos to be used to develop stem cells for diabetes patients.
The move is being hailed as a milestone in biological research by some doctors, but has sparked ethical questions – particularly among religious and anti-abortion groups.
Dr. Miodrag Stojkovic of Newcastle University said he plans to create dozens of cloned embryos using the same nuclear transfer technique that was employed by the scientists who created Dolly the sheep.
Initially, the scientists say, the cloned embryos will be exploited as sources of stem cells for treating diabetes patients.
“This is a great opportunity,” Stojkovic told the London Observer. “We are focusing on diabetes, but believe our work could lead to cures for other diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Our intention is not to create cloned humans, but to save lives.”
Stojkovic’s application to carry out the human cloning experiment will be heard on Wednesday by the five members of the research committee of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority. According to the Observer, the HFEA has already given its support in principle to the research and has begun working with Newcastle University to make a public announcement about the project next month.
Cloning human embryos for therapeutic purposes was made legal by an amendment to the Human Embryology Act. Cloning humans for reproductive purposes – in other words to use the technology to create carbon copies of people – is still outlawed in the United Kingdom.
The first human embryo was cloned in South Korea in February when scientists used 242 eggs harvested from 16 volunteers to create more than 30 embryos. A similar experiment has been carried out in America.
“This is the start of a slippery slope,” said Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe. “It is unnecessary to use embryo stem cells when many scientists believe stem cells taken from adults could be used.”