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Cloning success hailed, feared

Hwang Woo-suk, lead researcher at Seoul National University, speaks to reporters Friday.
• 'Dolly' pioneer Alan Colman on the potential for stem cell therapies.
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Should human embryonic cloning be allowed?
Yes, for reproductive cloning
Yes, but only for stem cell therapies
Not in any circumstances
Medical Research

LONDON, England (CNN) -- A breakthrough in human embryonic stem cell research by scientists in South Korea has been hailed as ground-breaking, with the potential to fight a host of ailments, but some people have raised ethical concerns.

A research team based at Seoul University in South Korea this week announced they had created the first human embryonic stem cells to be customized to match the DNA of specific patients.

Scientists described the achievement, reported in the journal Science, as a major advance towards cloning stem cells and transplanting them into humans to treat illness and disability. (Full Story)

"Therapeutic cloning has tremendous, tremendous healing potential, but we have to open so many doors before human trials," lead researcher Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University said in a telephone interview.

"Our work reveals the possibility that this technology could be applied in the patient himself in the future."

On Thursday a team of researchers at Newcastle University in the UK, which hopes to join South Korea in the forefront of stem cell research, also said they had successfully cloned an human embryo.

The head of the British-based team, Dr. Miodrag Stojkovic, told The Associated Press that the double breakthrough proved that stem cell techniques could be successful in humans.

"The promise of new treatments based on stem cell technology is moving nearer to becoming a realistic possibility," said Stojkovic.

Dr. Alan Colman, a member of the team that cloned Dolly the sheep -- the first cloned mammal -- in 1997, told CNN that within 20 years stem cell therapies could be used to treat degenerative diseases such as diabetes, congestive heart failure and Parkinson's disease.

But Josephine Quintavalle, founder of the public interest group Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE) described the use of human embryos for therapeutic treatment as "quite horrifying," and said that stem cell research should focus on the use of adult stem cells.

"There are currently 58 diseases that are being treated using adult stem cells so the issue of stems cells has a positive side, providing the cells are obtained ethically," Quintavalle told CNN.

"I think the work that's going on in this field is very exciting. The only thing I'm saying is you cannot sacrifice a human life, no matter how small, for the benefit of a third party. I think it's elitist medicine and utterly narcissistic. There are so many other adult stem cell alternatives available to find cures for diseases."

But Dr. Robin Lovell-Badge, the head of the UK's National Institute of Medical Research, told CNN that the use of embryonic cells had huge advantages over using adult stem cells.

"None of us scientists are saying we should limit the research only to these embryonic stem cells," said Lovell-Badge.

"But embryonic stem cells have the ability to form any stem cell size in the body and that makes them very powerful. They can be grown easily. They're very useful resources. A lot of adult stem cells, are very hard to work with."

Lovell-Badge added that concerns that embryonic research might lead to reproductive human cloning were unfounded.

"People are worried we might use the same procedure to generate children by using cloning technology.

"That is a silly idea and no scientist worth their name is proposing to do that because it is dangerous. These cloned embryos are just a ball of cells. They never have the chance to develop any further than that."

The ethical implications of embryonic cloning continue to divide the international community, with the UK and South Korea among only a handful of countries that permit embryonic stem cell research.

In the U.S. stem cell research has been restricted to private institutions since the Bush administration banned federally funded research in 2001.

On Friday the White House said that U.S. president George W. Bush would veto a bill expanding public funding for embryonic stem cell research that could be sent to him next week.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said: "The president would veto a bill that breaks the principle that human life should not be created for the sole purpose of destroying it, and especially the prohibition on federal money being used in research that would somehow support, encourage or promote the destruction of human life for scientific research." (Full Story)

In March the United Nations abandoned its bid to impose a blanket ban on human cloning because of opposition from countries that support embryonic research for therapeutic purposes.

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