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Senate Panel Hears Cloning Arguments

January 25, 2002|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — A Senate subcommittee Thursday heard impassioned arguments for and against a proposed ban on research involving human embryo clones, an ethically charged topic that grew even more so this week with the release of new scientific findings.

The hearing highlighted the increasingly convoluted politics of human embryo research, a field of science that proponents believe will lead to an exciting era of regenerative medicine and opponents decry as unethical.

Traditional polarities of left and right began to break down last year as some anti-abortion activists came out for the research and some environmental and feminist groups supported a ban.

Scientific and political currents collided again Thursday when proponents of a ban touted new evidence that bone marrow cells taken from adults might have the same curative potential as embryo cells--and as the scientist who led that research countered that her work was being misinterpreted to suit legislative agendas.

"Even though we're excited about the fact that there seem to be cells in adult tissue that seem to have greater potential than we thought, it's too soon to say they have the same potential and capabilities as embryo cells," said Catherine Verfaillie, the University of Minnesota biologist who led the recent studies.

At issue is scientists' desire to use cloning technology to create 5-day-old human embryos for research. Embryos contain stem cells, which have the potential to grow into replacement tissues useful in treating diseases. Scientists suspect stem cells from cloned embryos--grown from a skin cell of an adult patient--would be especially useful, since they would be genetically identical to the patient and would not be rejected by the patient's immune system.

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