Scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Center have for the first time created cloned embryos from an adult monkey. As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, it’s a technical breakthrough that brings efficient human cloning one step closer.
In 1989, Shoukhrat Mitalipov moved to Oregon from Russia and started working on stem cells. After almost a decade of research, he has announced the creation of dozens of cloned embryos from a 10-year-old male macaque monkey – named Semos after the Planet of the Apes movie.
Shoukhrat Mitalipov: “I hope it’s going to be a big deal, because it concerns treating disease in humans. And some days this technology will help us to fight age related diseases and possibly even extend our life. So we hope that this monkey, that gave it’s own skin cells, it will become one of the famous animals in history – as Dolly.”
Dolly was a sheep — and the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell.
Executing the same procedure in sub-human primates, rather than sheep, has proved to be much more difficult. But now, Mitalipov and his team has managed to take a skin cell from Semos and an egg from a female monkey – then replaced the nucleus of the egg with the nucleus from the skin cell. The resulting embryonic cell, says Mitalipov, is capable of becoming any cell in the body – like a neuron or heart muscle.
Shoukhrat Mitalipov: “Embroyinc cells have been derived about a decade ago. However, those cells have been derived from unrelated embryos. In this case we show that we can derive cells, which are specific to every patient. That means we completely resolve the issue of human rejection.”
Mitalipov’s findings have been published online by the journal Nature. Indeed, some have questioned the timing of the announcement, coming as it does just after the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a complaint against the primate center.
Jim Newman, a spokesman for the center, says the two issues are completely separate.
Jim Newman: “The reason why it was released today is because some other publications in the UK got wind of the news, started to report pieces of it Monday morning. And finally Nature decided that since much of the story was getting out that it was time to release it themselves. So this has no relation to what happened yesterday.”
The hope is Mitalipov’s new discoveries will make it easier for scientists to clone human embryos for use in research. It also raises the prospect of developing transplant tissues to treat diseases such as Parkinson's.