Scientists in South Korea have created a cloned blastocyst and extracted stem cells, publishing their results in Science. (Theoretically, you can read the article on the Science website, with a free registration, but I couldn't get the registration to work.) Here's the MSNBC.com report. Stem cells extracted from one of the blastocysts were tweaked to produce eye cells, muscle cells, cartilage cells, and bone cells.
In her NYT report Gina Kolata notes that researchers Woo Suk Hwang and Shin Yong Moon of Seoul National University had 242 eggs to work with, an extraordinary number.
The abundance of eggs enabled the scientists to experiment with ways of having the egg cells start to divide and of growing the embryos in the laboratory.
"They had an incredible amount of eggs and an opportunity to perfect the protocols," said Dr. Jose B. Cibelli, formerly with Advanced Cell Technology and now a professor of animal biotechnology at Michigan State University. "They tried 14 different protocols."
For background on just how precious eggs are in this research, read Kyla Dunn's compelling June 2002 Atlantic article, "Cloning Trevor," which features Cibelli's research.
Cibelli is a co-author of the Science article and, according to Kolata, "consulted with the Koreans toward the end of their work." His role is particularly interesting, not just because he was a pioneer in the field but because he now lives and works in Michigan, one of the states that ban research cloning. When he left ACT for Michigan State in late 2002, the WSJ reported:
In a mission statement he provided the university, Dr. Cibelli wrote that "no human embryos will be created nor destroyed at MSU." However, professors are allowed to spend one day a week on outside activities, leaving open the possibility that Dr. Cibelli could continue his work on therapeutic cloning in another state. According to Dr. Cibelli, officials at Michigan State told him: "We're not going to ask what you do with 20% of your time."
As the MSNBC.com report notes, "The research is sure to revive international controversy over whether to ban all human cloning. Critics say it involves destroying a human embryo, however tiny, and is thus unethical. The administration of President Bush and supporters in Congress are seeking to outlaw the technology both in the United States and worldwide."
This international effort demonstrates the difficulty of blocking potentially life-saving research that some individuals--or cultures--find morally objectionable and others believe morally benign, or even required. If it doesn't happen in South Korea, it will happen in China and Israel. But bans like the one in Michigan will slow down progress toward actual cures.