Monkeying around with the facts – Latest cloning hype

Press Release – Comment on Reproductive Ethics – 15 November 2007

Monkeying around with the facts – latest cloning hype

‘Cloning stories always get the UK science media over-excited,’ said Josephine Quintavalle on behalf of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, ‘but some in their enthusiasm for promoting the technological imperative at the expense of the ethical, ignore their duty to inform the public of the actual facts.’

‘Such a case is the enthusiastic endorsement by many of the latest primate research from the Oregon Health and Science University, as reported this week in the UK journal, ‘Nature’. The public would be forgiven for thinking that monkeys have been successfully cloned from adult somatic cells, that fully functioning stem cells lines have been derived, and that cures for every disease known to man are just two steps around the corner.

‘To be fair to ‘Nature’ this is not how the research has been written up. We read that 15,000 monkey eggs were used in order to develop the new protocol; that the current application of this protocol required 304 eggs to derive 2 embryonic stem cell lines, one of which was chromosomally abnormal, delivering an extremely low success rate of 0.7%. The researchers acknowledge that they have little idea of what separates the successes from the failures, and whilst it might be theoretically possible to repeat this research in humans it is unlikely that anybody could obtain the number of eggs necessary for such experiments.

‘It is also noted that the embryos created were morphologically poor and attempts at pregnancy on 77 occasions were all unsuccessful. Shoukhrat Mitalipov, the lead scientist is quoted as saying, ‘But no pregnancy made it even to day 25.’

‘Quoting directly from the conclusion paragraphs in the ‘Nature’ article, one gets an idea of how this research should have been reported:

‘Assuming that our modified SCNT protocols are applicable to humans, the low efficiency of ES cell derivation (0.7%) along with restricted availability and high cost of human oocytes suggest that a significant increase in the overall SCNT embryo generation and ES cell derivation rates would be required before a clinical implementation of human therapeutic cloning could occur.’

‘In other words – a very long way to go. That seems to us a fair assessment of this research, and is exactly how it should have been reported. To hype the facts in the face of vulnerable patient groups and promise cures for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and diabetes and the rest, is exploitative and grossly unprofessional.

‘CORE argues that some of the obstacles both ethical and technical may actually be insuperable; human egg requirements for a starter and some intrinsic biological problems associated with ‘fertilisation’ by cell nuclear replacement.

‘But in the meantime we also add that if you care about animals, you might spare a thought for the female monkeys undergoing the painful invasive procedures required to harvest such large numbers of eggs.’

Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE)
PO BOX 4593

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