Scientists at the Oregon Health and Science University and the Oregon National Primate Research Centre(ONPRC) have announced that they have succeeded in turning human skin cells into early-stage embryos. These can then be used create specialised tissue to treat disease.
Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Senior Scientist at the ONPRC, said the technique could help treat diseases, including Parkinson’s.
He said: “Parkinson’s disease is caused by dysfunction of very few types of cells. Basically, they’re a type of neurons that are not producing enough some chemicals – and in many patients these cells are actually gone, they died off.
“So now, in the laboratory, we can learn how to produce, for example, these neurons that would produce this chemical and transplant this into patients with this disease,” Mitalipov continued.
The researchers said their technique also holds promise for the treatment of heart disease, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries.
Cloning polarises opinion – with opponents saying its unethical to experiment on human embryos and calling for a ban.
The Oregon team’s technique uses unfertilised human eggs instead of embryos – as well as several of the methods that produced Dolly, a sheep created by cloning in 1996.