A leap forward?

HAVE we finally done it? In cloning human embryos and extracting universal stem cells, scientists in South Korea have apparently taken a big leap forward toward a tantalising goal: growing tailor-made replacement tissues for people who are sick or injured. The South Korean work is being billed as a step toward what is called "therapeutic cloning."

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Published: Sun 15 Feb 2004, 12:30 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:14 AM

The path-breaking initiative was unveiled on Thursday in Seattle before an international audience by the Korean scientists, Woo Suk Hwang and Shin Yong Moon. The issue, not surprisingly, has rekindled a long-simmering debate over cloning and stem cell research. Experts, however, have described the breakthrough as the most significant advance in cloning technology since Dolly the sheep. The Korean researchers say the breakthrough is largely down to using extremely fresh eggs donated by South Korean volunteers and finding a gentler way of handling the genetic material inside them. But it may be ages before the breakthrough research leads to actual accomplishment and any actual therapy. It is likely to be several years before tissues derived (created?) this way could even be tested in patients. The South Korean scientists have produced only the raw material, the stem cells, which must be turned into more specific cells like heart cells or brain cells. Moreover, ethical questions continue to cloud the whole debate. Will this breakthrough actually lead to 'messing with' God's creation as the Pope once feared? The debate may go on.

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