What is Somatic cell nuclear transfer(SCNT)

Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is a laboratory technique for creating an ovum with a donor nucleus . It can be used in embryonic stem cell research, or in regenerative medicine where it is sometimes referred to as "therapeutic cloning." It can also be used as the first step in the process of reproductive cloning.

In SCNT the nucleus, which contains the organism's DNA, of a somatic cell (a body cell other than a sperm or egg cell) is removed and the rest of the cell discarded. At the same time, the nucleus of an egg cell is removed. The nucleus of the somatic cell is then inserted into the enucleated egg cell. After being inserted into the egg, the somatic cell nucleus is reprogrammed by the host cell. The egg, now containing the nucleus of a somatic cell, is stimulated with a shock and will begin to divide. After many mitotic divisions in culture, this single cell forms a blastocyst (an early stage embryo with about 100 cells) with almost identical DNA to the original organism.


SCNT in stem cell research
Some researchers use SCNT in stem cell research. The aim of carrying out this procedure is to obtain stem cells that are genetically matched to the donor organism. Presently, no human stem cell lines have been derived from SCNT research.

Human Embryonic Stem cell colony on mouse embryonic fibroblast feeder layer.

A potential use of genetically-customized stem cells would be to create cell lines that have genes linked to the particular disease. For example, if a person with Parkinson's disease donated his or her somatic cells, then the stem cells resulting SCNT would have genes that contribute to Parkinson's disease. In this scenario, the disease-specific stem cell lines would be studied in order to better understand the disease.

In another scenario, genetically-customized stem cell lines would be generated for cell-based therapies to transplant to the patient. The resulting cells would be genetically identical to the somatic cell donor, thus avoiding any complications from immune system rejection.

Only a handful of the labs in the world are currently using SCNT techniques in human stem cell research. In the United States, scientists at the Harvard University Stem Cell Institute, the University of California San Francisco, and possibly Advanced Cell Technology are currently researching a technique to use somatic cell nuclear transfer to produce embryonic stem cells. In the United Kingdom, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has granted permission to research groups at the Roslin Institute and the Newcastle Centre for Life. SCNT may also be occurring in China.

In 2005, a South Korean research team led by Professor Hwang Woo-suk, published claims to have derived stem cell lines via SCNT, but supported those claims with fabricated data.Recent evidence has proved that he in fact created a stem cell line from a parthenote.

SCNT in reproductive cloning
This technique is currently the basis for cloning animals (such as the famous Dolly the sheep), and in theory could be used to clone humans. However, most researchers believe that in the foreseeable future it will not be possible to use this technique to produce a human clone that will develop to term.

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