Therapeutic cloning refers to the removal of a nucleus from almost any cell in an adult body. These are somatic cells and the nucleus contains genetic material. This genetic material can then be transferred to an unfertilized egg that has also had its nucleus removed. Once reconstituted, the egg begins to divide.
After 4-5 days, embryonic stem cells begin to form. These stem cells can then be harvested and used to create cultured stem cells that are genetically identical to the individual with the original somatic cell.
Here are some of the pros and cons of therapeutic cloning to consider when evaluating this practice.
List of Therapeutic Cloning Pros
1. It has the potential to create organs.
There are more than 100,000 people in the United States and countless others around the world who are waiting on an organ transplant right now. The process of therapeutic cloning could be directed so that these vital organs could be created. Not only would this process eliminate wait times, it would also reduce costs. Because the DNA from the “cloned” organ is the same as the individual, there would be little threat of organ rejection.
2. Tissue rejection is no longer a threat.
Therapeutic cloning provides an exact match to the individual who has a tissue or organ need. Even for non-organ related issues, such as replacing the skin of a burn patient, rejection becomes a minimal issue because of this process. Even though the new tissues come from a new embryo, the cells divided through the somatic materials that were previously harvested so a direct match is achieved.
3. It may help to treat genetic diseases.
Somatic cells do carry the same DNA information as the individual, so any genetic concerns would also transfer. What if scientists could alter the genetic sequences to correct the issues that are causing a disease or disorder for the individual through the therapeutic cloning process? A whole new field of medical treatments is possible because of the technologies behind the therapeutic cloning process.
4. Donor items would no longer be necessary.
Under our current medical structure, someone must die for another person to receive a heart transplant. Critical organs are few and far between because of the need for a fatality, the ability to preserve the organ at the time of death, and the need for a direct match to the recipient. All of these concerns would go away if therapeutic cloning were to become an accepted and common practice within the medical community.
5. It could lead to organ regeneration.
Embryonic stem cells have a unique ability to form into different types of tissue. Scientists believe they could transition these cells toward specific tissue types, based on the need of the patient. That could mean an ACL could be repaired in weeks instead of months because a new ligament could be attached. A new liver could be formed to replace one scarred by cirrhosis. Skin grafts could grow new skin without scar tissue. There is even the possibility of organ regeneration with these cells.
6. It can act as a preventative treatment.
Medical treatments work best when proactive efforts can be taken instead of reactive efforts. Through the process of therapeutic cloning, it would become possible to replace damaged cells with healthy cells that are a direct match to the patient. This practice could prevent disease, limit the risks of future health issues, and control genetic or chromosomal issues that some patients may face.
7. Therapeutic cloning could eliminate lengthy treatment times.
About 20 people die every day waiting for an organ. A new patient is added to the national transplant waiting list in the United States, on average, every 10 minutes. For those waiting for a kidney, it could be up to 5 years, and sometimes longer, to find someone who is a direct match. With therapeutic cloning, these wait times would disappear.
8. It offers new treatment options.
Many long-term diseases could be immediately controlled, like diabetes. Devastating conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease, could be treated.
List of Therapeutic Cloning Cons
1. We must have a definitive definition of life.
For many, life begins at conception. The idea of therapeutic cloning would therefore be tantamount to murder. The embryonic stem cells would be harvested at 4-5 days and would not be able to survive on its own, but some view that process as halting the natural progression of life in an unnatural way. To proceed with therapeutic cloning, our society would need to come to a consensus about how life is defined. Otherwise, we would continue to be polarized.
2. There is always a threat of cell mutation.
Mother Nature may be predictable and consistent, but she is also unpredictable at times as well. One single mutation is responsible for the entire crop of navel oranges that we have. Mutations can occur spontaneously, even when using somatic cells for genetic transfer. These mutations have caused embryos to not divide as expected. Some have even created the threat of tumors when used with a patient.
3. It would require an extensive supply of eggs.
The best estimates of need for therapeutic cloning place the number of needed eggs at over 1 million. In the United States, over the past 20 years, there have been an estimated 400,000 eggs placed into cold storage. That means the supply of eggs would need to double just to begin the process of curing disease. Then we must realize that the 1 million number is a yearly number that is required. We would need 980,000 more eggs for storage to facilitate the cloning process.
4. Egg extraction isn’t a comfortable procedure.
Even with modern pain management techniques in place, women find that egg extraction can be very painful. At this moment, egg extraction is considered an elective procedure, so many health insurance plans do not cover the cost of the procedure either. In the United States, PBS reports that the average cost of a retrieval procedure is about $10,000 and the pain medication can be as much as $5,000. Unless these costs were subsidized in some way, only those with means would be able to take advantage of the benefits of therapeutic cloning.
5. Somatic cells do not have the same attributes as new stem cells.
Although the nucleus information is replaced to create an effective clone, the attributes of the stem cells which appear are not necessarily as valuable from an attribute standpoint as stem cells that form through the natural reproductive process. To counter this issue, adult stem cells have been considered for therapeutic cloning as well, but results have been inconclusive at best. Our best solution, at this point, would be to harvest stem cells from cord blood and then preserve them for therapeutic cloning needs in the future.