Stem cell story of the year: human therapeutic cloning

There have been many interesting developments in stem cells in 2013, but to me the biggest event by far was the first ever successful somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)-based human therapeutic cloning.

This approach generated apparently genetically normal human embryonic stem cells (hESC), an astonishing accomplishment.

Knoepfler Diagram Human Cloning
Two kinds of human cloning. Knoepfler illustration.

There are two kinds of human cloning: therapeutic and reproductive. The latter is making an actual new person with an identical genome to an existing person. The latter has never been achieved, but some of us are worried it is coming sooner than most imagine. See image above that visually explains the 2 kinds of cloning, adapted from my new book on stem cells: Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide.

Shoukhrat Mitalipov
Shoukhrat Mitalipov.

“Human Embryonic Stem Cells Derived by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer” was the human therapeutic cloning paper published in Cell  by the lab of Shoukhrat Mitalipov (left) at Oregon Health Sciences Universities (OHSU).

The paper also generated great controversy because of several instances of data duplication and the incredibly short review period of just a few days.

In terms of the discovery itself, an OHSU press release described it this way:

Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is a technique in which the nucleus of a donor cell is transferred to an egg cell whose nucleus has been removed, generating embryos that are almost an identical genetic match to the donor individual. For the first time, a team of scientists has used SCNT to produce human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). This milestone, published by Cell Press May 15th in the journal Cell, opens up new avenues for using stem cells to understand patient-specific causes of disease and for developing personalized therapies.

Dr. Mitalipov, who I had the chance to meet and talk with at the recent World Stem Cell Summit calls the hESCs made by therapeutic cloning (NT-hESC).

For me human therapeutic cloning is the stem cell event of the year because it has such powerful implications at a global level.

On the one hand, NT-hESC present an alternative to iPS cells as a basis for personalized medicine. In principle, any sick patient could have NT-hESC made from them and then used as a basis to produce specific differentiated cells that when given back should be accepted by the body as “self”. There is huge positive potential there and reason for hope. Don’t get me wrong, I think iPS cells are incredibly powerful, but having more stem cell “weapons” against disease is definitely a good thing.

On the other hand, I believe that therapeutic cloning opens the door to eventual human reproductive cloning. It’s an unintentional consequence as Mitalipov told me earlier this year he is opposed to human reproductive cloning. However, that doesn’t mean that some rogue group will not try to clone a person. In fact, I think it will happen in the next 5-10 years.

The controversy surrounding the lightning fast review of the paper and the problems with some figures in the paper that were entirely missed by editors and reviewers also has lessons for the field as well.

So for all these reasons, positive and negative, I think human therapeutic cloning is the stem cell event of the year for 2013.

8 thoughts on “Stem cell story of the year: human therapeutic cloning”

  1. Can vi partial reprogram hESC with the SCNT-method and just modify some genes that will tells the cell how “old” they must be, or will the cell reprogram itself when they enter and “old” environment? What about the Mouse trial with the two of them connected and oldest got younger via bloodtransfer. And if we manage the partial reprogramming, will that influence the brain, in the way that our memory will ble lost. Do you think there are too many years before this will be tried in humans? What do you mean must be accomplished before this will be a reality? Are there enough tools so we can limit the area the cells must intergrate. Can we just stop the dividing by turn genes of and off with antibiotics or how it is programmed?

  2. “But if modified partial reprogramming could reduce the age of cells in vivo, this would be transformational, and potentially lead to rejuvenation in adults that could increase the quality of life and reduce the number of age-related disorders.”

    Do you think this can be done in 2014?
    Can this reverse damaged made before the reprogramming? Lyme disease. ..or is it just “renewing” excisting cells?

  3. Well, this is really amazing. Professor Mitalipov has proven that primates like rhesus monkeys have a different mechanism of the generation of chimera. I’m not sure whether the limited number of injected cells caused this failure or not, for Nakauchi has created chimeric pigs with injecting about 10 blastomeres. Moreover, I prefer iPSCs to NT-ESCs in spite of many unsolved problems like tumorigenisity of iPSCs, because the therapuic cloning will kill an embryo which is gonna grow into a human. But I believe this kind of organ will be the start of systematically creating organs of recipent origen just like in a production line.

    1. I really hope we can proceed science in this field without the catholic people, if they reject this procedure. ..and get enough founding. This can save a lot of people from misery.

      Then we can do some research without focusing with the huge teratoma-problems using IPS cells.

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  7. I agree with you totally!! Now if we could just find the prime subpopulation of SCNT derived human embryonic stem cells that have the necessary pluripotency and self-renewal qualities to complement in a pig (or sheep, or monkey) blastocyst. Professor Mitalipov tried to create chimeric Rhesus monkeys by injecting stem cells, but failed. I suppose that this is because he could only inject a maximum of 25 cells into a blastocyst, and the frequency of high “stemness” (unknown but appoximated by pluripotency and self-renewal) is much less than 1/25 from hES cells freshly trypsinized off feeders with no (or low) enrichment. Man, a big push from the Nakauchi and Mitalipov labs, and we may see transplantable human organs derived from animals using NT-ES in our lifetime.

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