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Stem Cells—Therapeutic Cloning Techniques Advance, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

There are two distinct types of embryonic cloning: “reproductive” cloning and “therapeutic” cloning.  While they have similar beginnings, the desired end results are vastly different.
The clearest path to “therapeutic” cloning may lie in “autologous transplantation.”  In this method, a tiny amount of a patient’s muscle or other tissue is harvested.  This sample’s genetic material is then de-differentiated; that is, reduced to a simple, unprogrammed state.  The patient’s DNA sample is then inserted into an egg to grow a blastocyst.  The blastocyst is manipulated so that its stem cells differentiate into the desired type of tissue, such as heart tissue.  That newly grown tissue would then be transplanted to the patient’s body.  Many obstacles must be overcome before such a transplant can become commonplace, but there is potential to completely revolutionize healing through such regenerative, stem cell-based processes.
“Reproductive” cloning is a method of reproducing an exact copy of an animal—or potentially an exact copy of a human being.  A scientist would remove the nucleus from a donor’s unfertilized egg, insert a nucleus from the animal, or human, to be copied, and then stimulate the nucleus to begin dividing to form an embryo.  In the case of a mammal, such as a human, the embryo would then be implanted in the uterus of a host female for gestation and birth.  The successful birth of a cloned human baby doesn’t necessarily mean that a healthy adult human will result.  To date, cloned animals have often developed severe health problems.  For example, a U.S. firm, Ocata Therapeutics (now a part of the Astellas Institute for Regenerative Medicine (AIRM)), reports that it engineered the birth of cloned cows that appeared healthy at first but developed severe health problems after a few years.  Nonetheless, relatively successful cloning of animals is now progressing in many nations.
On the other hand, “therapeutic” cloning is a method of reproducing exact copies of cells needed for research or for the development of replacement tissue.  In this case as well, a scientist removes the nucleus from a donor’s unfertilized egg, inserts a nucleus from the animal, or human, whose cells are to be copied, and then stimulates the nucleus to begin dividing to form an embryo.  However, in therapeutic use, the embryo would never be allowed to grow to any significant stage of development.  Instead, it would be allowed to grow for a few hours or days, and stem cells would then be removed from it for use in regenerating tissue.
Because it can provide a source of stem cells, cloning has uses in regenerative medicine that can be vital in treating many types of disease.  The main differences between stem cells derived from clones and those derived from aborted fetuses or fertility specimens is that a) they are made from only one source of genes, rather than by mixing sperm and eggs; and b) they are made specifically for scientific purposes, rather than being existing specimens.  Although the use of cloning for regeneration has stirred heated debate as well, it has not resulted in universal rejection.  Most industrialized countries, including Canada, Russia, most of Western Europe and most of Asia, have made some government-sanctioned allowances for research in this area.
Specifically, researchers are cloning early-stage embryos in search of new treatments for such degenerative diseases as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and diabetes.  The embryos are destroyed before they are two weeks old and therefore do not develop beyond a tiny cluster of cells.
Reprogramming has evolved recently to use proteins to manipulate cells to return to embryonic states.  In the past, reprogramming was accomplished by using a virus to carry genes into a mature cell.  This is problematic since the virus can cause cancer or spark changes in the target cell that are undesirable.  One technology uses a wash made of four proteins that are associated with the genes.  The wash is absorbed in the target cell where the proteins trigger additional protein changes, causing the reversion to a primitive state.

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