[Paleopsych] NYT Idiotorial: A Surprising Leap on Cloning

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A Surprising Leap on Cloning

    South Korean scientists stunned their rivals around the world last
    week by announcing that they had produced the first human embryos that
    were genetic matches for diseased or injured patients, and had done so
    by a highly efficient method that could bring further rapid advances
    in cloning. It was sobering evidence that leadership in "therapeutic
    cloning" has shifted abroad while American scientists, hamstrung by
    political and religious opposition, make do with private or state
    funds in the absence of federal support.

    The Korean achievement, published in the online edition of the journal
    Science, makes the current debate in Congress over federal financing
    of stem cell research look pathetically behind the times. Under
    current restrictions imposed by President Bush, federal money can be
    used for research on 20 stem cell lines that were derived from surplus
    embryos at fertility clinics years ago, but not on any newly derived
    lines. A House bill that may come up for a vote soon would expand the
    number of surplus embryos that could be studied but would not allow
    federal funding for therapeutic cloning, the most promising avenue for
    stem cell research.

    That would be a missed opportunity. Stem cells derived from cloned
    human embryos that are genetically matched to sick patients are
    potentially much more useful than stem cells derived from surplus
    embryos at fertility clinics, both for research and for potential
    treatments. Since cloned embryos carry the genetic makeup of patients
    with known diseases, scientists can study how those diseases develop
    from the earliest stages and can perhaps find drug treatments to
    interrupt the process. And if scientists ultimately succeed in
    converting the stem cells themselves into replacement tissues to
    repair damaged organs, those tissues would have the best chance of
    avoiding rejection by a patient's immune system if they were
    genetically matched to the patient through therapeutic cloning.

    Unfortunately, the House has twice passed bills to ban therapeutic
    cloning outright, not just restrict federal financing, and President
    Bush remains "dead set against human cloning," according to a White
    House spokesman. The president threatened to veto even the modest
    proposals to use more surplus embryos from fertility clinics. In the
    upcoming struggles over stem cell legislation, supporters of sound
    science must ensure that no ban is imposed on therapeutic cloning that
    would further shackle American researchers while scientists in Asia
    and Britain forge ahead.

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