Cloned embryos have the ability to regenerate specialised cells in the body, including new heart muscle, bone and brain tissue, much the same as stem cells do.
Scientists, from Oregon Health and Science University successfully used cloning techniques on a human skin cell and a woman’s egg, to create a genetic copy of the original skin cell.
While the study, published this week in the journal Cell, has been heralded a medical breakthrough by the international science community, researchers were quick to caution that they believed the technique could not be used to clone humans.
“We still believe that the stem cells that we create don’t actually have the potential to become embryos and [be] used for reproductive cloning,” Oregon research team member Dr Shoukhrat Mitalipov told reporters.
“They’re basically charged with the ability to make any other cells and tissues, and even organs.”
But researchers still believe the technique may be easier, less expensive and less controversial than other means of generating stem cells.
Yet there are grave concerns surrounding the quality of stem cells produced using this technique, compared to the embryonic stem cells.
Critics of stem cell research believe it is unethical to experiment on human embryos and have called for a ban on any such trials being conducted. This has lead scientists and researchers to find alternative means to source stem cells.
However, there are great hopes that stem cells will revolutionise medicine for the future. Especially since they have the ability to heal damage caused by the common heart attack and even potentially repair a severed spinal cord.
Trials have already begun using stem cells, sourced from donated embryos, to restore people’s sight. Yet these donated cells do not match the patients and are often rejected, hence why using the patient’s own cloned cells is less problematic.
Somatic cell nuclear transfer has been well documented since Dolly the sheep became the first mammal to be cloned in 1996. Researchers have struggled to produce the same result with humans.