Attack of the Clones: The Future of Medical Research

The original clone Dolly, preserved forever at the National Museum of Scotland. Photo Credit: Shelley Bernstein

I’m sure we all remember Dolly, the world’s first successfully cloned mammal, a lovely little sheep in Edinburgh 16 years ago. Well, from the makers of Dolly, comes a whole new epic: Brain Tissue.

The cloning of Dolly spurred on the stem cell revolution, that led scientists to discover that adult cells could be turned into stem cells, which could then be encouraged to grow into any other cell in the human body.

The four actual applications of creating stem cells are:

  1. To test the toxicity of drugs
  2. To create tissue for transplanting
  3. To boost levels of stem cells to help fight diseases
  4. To create models of diseases in order to create drugs to fight them.

It is the last of these that the researchers at Edinburgh’s Centre of Regenerative Medicine have focused on. The aim? To try and understand what’s going on in the brain of those suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar depression, and other mental illnesses. The best way to research any disease is to examine the live tissue of the affected organ. Of course, you can’t just do a biopsy on a brain, and autopsies just don’t cut it.

So our Scottish cloning geniuses have managed to take a little scrap of skin from these patients, made stem cells from them, and then directed these stem cells to become brain cells – genetically identical to the brain cells within the patient. Hey presto – live tissue for medical scientists to get their fingers into!

Generating lines of these cells helps us with number 4 up there – with brain cells of those suffering from mental illnesses, the scientists can begin testing new drugs on them without having to endanger the lives of patients.

It’s a bit of a far cry from a clone army taking over the world, but I’m sure there would be some who would be wary of this sort of progress. In the world of medicine, however, this technology can swing open doors that have been frustratingly closed for years. Cloning the cells of any part of the body using only a scraping of skin will give medical practitioners access to parts previously inaccessible.

It’s a major breakthrough for medical research. But more importantly, for anyone who knows someone, or has lost someone, to illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease (the disease Stephen Hawking suffers from); this is a glorious glimmer of hope on the horizon.

[Via The Guardian]

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