[ASC-media] Media release: stem cell myths exposed

JCA Media jcamedia at starclass.com.au
Tue Nov 29 22:00:10 EST 2005

Sir Mark Oliphant Conferences 2005: Epigenetic Regulation of Development & Disease



With Australia poised to make its momentous national decision on the use of embryonic stem cells, a world scientific authority will demolish some of the myths and outline the life-saving promise of the technology in Canberra today.

Professor Rudolph Jaenisch, a specialist in nuclear cloning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will deliver a public lecture on how somatic cell nuclear transfer may help cure people with Parkinson's disease or diabetes. 

Somatic cell nuclear transfer is a process where the nucleus of an unfertilised human egg is removed and replaced with the nucleus from a cell taken from the person needing treatment. This new 'embryonic stem cell' is manipulated into the required cell type, then stimulated to divide. The new cells are then returned to the patient. 

In degenerative diseases like Parkinson's, the new cells simply replace what has been lost. In cases of leukaemia where the patient has lost their bone marrow, this treatment offers the chance to have their 'own' marrow put back, eliminating the rejection risks associated with bone marrow transplants.

While this technology has been shown to work, it is controversial because some have argued it can in theory be used to clone a human being - 'reproductive cloning'. Ethical objections to the work have also been raised because it uses eggs, which could potentially become a human life.

"In contrast to an embryo derived by in vitro fertilization (IVF), a cloned embryo has little if any potential to ever develop into a normal human being because of faulty reprogramming. Therefore, from a biologist's point of view, the cloned human embryo used to make embryonic stem cells, has little if any potential to create a normal human life," Professor Jaenisch says.

"It's not a technical issue. There is a real biological barrier to cloning for human reproductive applications. But therapeutic cloning, to cure disease, is not fraught with these principal problems.

"It is important that the public debate on embryonic stem cells, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SNCT) and its potential for therapy is based on biological facts rather than on misconceptions or misrepresentations," he says.

In principle, embryonic stem cells produced by SCNT can be used as the source for the production of functional cells for the therapy of diseases such as Diabetes, bone marrow diseases or Parkinson's. Cloned embryonic stem cells are customised to the patient who served as the donor of the nucleus and thus no immuno-suppressive treatment is required if transplanted into the patient. However, many object to SCNT because it involves the use of human eggs. Various alternatives are being discussed that may provide a compromise for the ethical dilemma.  

Professor Jaenisch is in Australia to present his work at the Sir Mark Oliphant Conference on Epigenetic Regulation of Development & Disease. 

He will also deliver the Malcolm McIntosh Memorial Lecture on "Nuclear cloning, embryonic stem cells and the promise for transplantation therapy" on Wednesday November 30 at 5pm at the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra. 

The media and the public are welcome to attend.

The Sir Mark Oliphant Conference on Epigenetic Regulation of Development & Disease takes place at the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra, ACT, Australia from November 29-December 2, 2005.
For interviews with Prof. Jaenisch and more information:
Alex Pelvin, CSIRO, ph 02 6246 5485 or 0409 937 124
Dr Jean Finnegan, CSIRO via 0422 208 068
Prof. Julian Cribb, 0418 639 245

Conference details: http://www.pi.csiro.au/markoliphant-conf/

November 30, 2005

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