Part two of Chasing Eve — have we really cloned a human?
Part 2. [read part 1]
The first announcement of human cloning preceded both Zavos and Boisselier by one year. “They were such tiny dots” wrote Jose Cibelli, Robert Lanza, and Michael West (vice president of research, vice president of medical and scientific development, and president and CEO, respectively) of Advanced Cell Technology, a privately-held biotechnology company in Worcester, Massachusetts. In October of 2001, they had cloned the very first human embryos, clusters of 100-celled blastocysts. They were following in Wilmut’s footsteps, they claimed. They were not interested in reproduction, and had no plans to implant their cells into a human womb. They were instead growing “starter stock.” Stem cells were the new magic words; these pluripotent (that is, having the ability to become any type of tissue) cells seemed to hold the key for medicine’s future. Under the right conditions, they would develop into nerve or muscle. They might be able to correct inhibited immune systems. They may be used therapeutically, to treat damaged spinal cords.
I spent three years researching neurosurgery technique trying to address spinal cord injuries for my last book, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher. Once a spine is severed, that superhighway of control never grows back on its own. Nerve bundles damaged by trauma swell and, frequently, create even more damage, and once the connection between brain and body is severed, everything below the injury ‘goes dark.’ But, as recently as October 2020, Dr. Llorens-Bobadilla and a team of molecular neurobiologists at the German Cancer Research Center discovered that some stem cells (in mice) can be coaxed into repairing those vital connections. The idea of regrowing spinal tissue is extremely exciting, but therapeutic stem cell research proposes to do even more. If scientists can coax harvested cells into any type of tissue, we could grow heart muscle, spine tissue, and even entire organs.
Marilia Cascalho and Jeffrey L. Platt of the Transplantation Biology Program and the Departments of Surgery, Immunology and Pediatrics, Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, say it might be time to stop harvesting organs and start growing them. Stem cells have the capacity to…