Therapeutic cloning studied for Parkinson's
ADELAIDE, Australia -- A dozen lambs, expected to be born within the next week, could some day play a key role in finding a cure for Parkinson's disease.
Researchers at the South Australian Research and Development Institute will use the lambs to experiment with therapeutic cloning -- replacing dying or diseased cells with healthy ones derived from a cloned embryo to cure disease. Eventually, they hope to use a similar process on humans once they have perfected it in sheep.
Sheep are "very good animals to work with," said Simon Walker, a principal scientist at the Turretfield Research Centre in Australia, which conducts research related to agricultural systems. "The cloning technology is a little bit more efficient than it is with laboratory species, so they have an important job to play."
Therapeutic cloning involves embryonic stem cells. Those cells have not developed to the point of having a specific function, so researchers can develop tailor-made tissue to replace dead or diseased cells with new, healthy ones. Scientists contend that such cells could help treat diabetes, AIDS, cancer, Parkinson's Alzheimer's disease.
Scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia have successfully used that technique to integrate healthy cells in the brains of newborn rats.
"What we are working to do now is to reduplicate that work using human cells, and we've started our own work with human cells here in Australia and in the United States," said Chris Juttner, a senior researcher at BresaGen, an Australian biotechnology company. "Our aim is to show we can produce exactly the same needed cells in humans..."
But as a team of Australian scientists prepares to conduct human clinical trials in the United States within the next two years to cure Parkinson's disease, controversy continues to shadow the research because it involves using human embryos.
Australian restrictions on human embryos have led scientists to import embryos discarded from U.S. in vitro fertilization programs for their research. But they do not intend to continue to rely on imported embryos.
"Once we establish a master cell bank from a few embryos, that becomes our source of cells," Juttner said. 'We don't have to keep going back to new embryos all the time."
Eventually, researchers hope to take healthy adult cells from a sick person, grow them into specific cells, and then transplant those cells back into the person to cure their particular disease.
But they're concerned that issues surfacing about human cloning could spawn reservations that hinder livestock cloning and in turn, impede their work in therapeutic cloning.
"There's a debate right now about cloning of humans," Walker said, "... and we have to make sure that research is not put on hold because of fears about human cloning."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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