Scientists say they have developed a technique that could be used to clone children.
The London Independent reports that the method was created to overcome the ethical issues of stem cell research.
The process involves reprogramming adult skin cells to act like embryonic cells. Scientists say the developed process is easier to do than the method used several years ago to clone Dolly the sheep.
"Cloning isn't here now, but with this new technique we have the technology that can actually produce a child. If this was applied to humans it would be enormously important and troublesome," said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology. Lanza's company has pioneered developments in stem cells and cell reprogramming.
"It raises the same issues as reproductive cloning," Lanza said. "And although the technology for reproductive cloning in humans doesn't exist, with this breakthrough we now have a working technology whereby anyone, young or old, fertile or infertile, straight or gay can pass on their genes to a child by using just a few skin cells."
Repeated experiments on mice have indicated human cloning using this new technology is possible. But many fear the technique will be used by infertility doctors to create designer babies.
My Three Parents?
The experiments that were conducted on mice demonstrated that it is now possible in principle to take a human skin cell, reprogram it back to its embryonic state, and then insert it into an early human embryo.
Researchers believe the child produced from such a procedure would share some of the genes of the person who supplied the skin tissue, as well as the genes of the embryo's two parents.
The resulting offspring could technically have one to three biological parents, depending on the number of donors.
"In addition to the great therapeutic promise demonstrated by this technology, the same technology opens a whole new can of worms," Lanza explained.
"At this point there are no laws or regulations for this kind of thing and the bizarre thing is that the Catholic Church and other traditional stem-cell opponents think this technology is great, when in reality it could in the end become one of their biggest nightmares," he said.
"It is quite possible that the real legacy of this whole new programming technology is that it will be introducing the era of designer babies," he said.
"So for instance if we had a few skin cells from Albert Einstein, or anyone else in the world, you could have a child that is say 10 percent or 70 percent Albert Einstein by just injecting a few of their cells into an embryo," Lanza said.
Experts say new laws are needed to prevent human cloning around the world. In fact, many countries have not yet banned human cloning because current laws do not keep up with the latest scientific discoveries.
Source: The London Independent