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Embryonic Stem Cells from Old Man

April 19, 2014

Let’s hope this story lasts longer than the acid bath stem cells. Scientists from an American company and from South Korea claim to have cloned embryonic stem cells from the skin of an elderly man. Two out of 77 tried–still low efficiency. Full report here, in the journal Cell Stem Cell.

The standard technique, for sheep and other animals, has been to enucleate (remove the nucleus) of an oocyte (egg cell); then insert the nucleus of a skin cell. The skin cell has 2n chromosomes, ready to go. A zap of electricity and other treatments somehow induce the filled egg to divide and multiply.  But in the past, for humans–unlike sheep–only DNA from embryo cells could be inserted into egg nuclei to generate “immortal” stem cells. The kind of human stem cells that might someday form replacement organs.

Or replacement people. This technology brings closer the possibility of “cloning” a whole adult person’s body.  And apparently, there are no clear laws against it.

  1. SFreader permalink
    April 20, 2014 1:16 pm

    I’m familiar with the Bone Marrow registry which says ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to at-large would-be-donors over 60 years of age. This is done for health reasons, both the donor’s and the recipient’s. So I wonder what benefit there is to cloning a 77-year old without some massive repair work done on the specific stem cells that would be re-implanted. You’d at least want to get the telomere caps increased.

    I’m wondering whether some of these experiments are intended to determine whether it’s easier/more reliable to clone a whole organism versus just one part/organ of that organism. If the former, the ethics/morality issue will get even hotter; if the latter, then we’ll likely see a boom in ‘genetic remodeling/grafting technology/medicine/surgery” … or ‘renovation medicine’.

    Has the U.S. Supreme Court firmly come down on who owns genes? This centers mostly on the BRCA gene testing case: 1980’s technology costs (insanely high) are being charged to provide women with a breast cancer diagnosis in the 2010’s.

  2. April 20, 2014 2:28 pm

    Apparently the telomeres get reset somehow, in the germ cells.
    As for age, if a 77-year old is allowed to procreate, why not get cloned? Sperm age and mutate FASTER than egg cells, and probably faster than most body tissues.

    Can you patent a human gene? Nope. But you can patent a simple process to use a gene. Basically, lawyers always win. See:

  3. SFreader permalink
    April 24, 2014 4:16 pm

    You’re probably also familiar with the studies showing significant increases in cognitive and neurological problems among children conceived by men 40+, with the incidence of such problems increasing sharply with the father’s age. So – unless the tissue used for cloning is vastly different from sperm in this regard, we can expect an increase in autism and schizophrenia among these clones.

    If mostly the really wealthy old men choose to get cloned, then we’ll truly end up with a society run by the stereotypical comic book baddies: psychotic,devoid/incapable of emotion, and super wealthy.

    • April 24, 2014 4:44 pm

      You’re right about the exponential decay of sperm. However, the sperm progenitor cells undergo lots of replications. Less mutable body cells of men might be used.
      Fortunately, super wealthy men represent a tiny part of the population; and they’d have to hire a lot of women to carry their clones. So, I’ve never been too worried about human cloning as a population issue.

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