Nuclear Cloning and Cell Therapy: Fact and Fiction

Cloning can instantly spark passionate debate: Will it enable us to resurrect beloved family members, or create Frankensteins? Rudolf Jaenisch wants to remove “hot air” from the discussion. His talk provides a clear picture of what is and is not scientifically feasible. Animal cloning, first pioneered in Dolly the sheep, used non-reproductive cells to create a carbon copy of the donor animal. This technique, tested many times, fails frequently and yields severe abnormalities. Consequently, Jaenisch believes the cloning of humans will never prove practical. But another variety of cloning generates far fewer genetic glitches and holds immense medical promise. The earliest cells of embryos can be manipulated to develop into neurons, or blood, or muscle, making them very useful tools in therapy for diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s or leukemia. Jaenisch says these embryonic stem (ES) cells could be “an inexhaustible source of any tissue type and tailored to the needs of the patient.” But in spite of the potential rewards of this work, federal agencies and many others oppose it because so far the only source of ES cells has been human embryos. Jaenisch seeks a middle ground: scientists may not attempt cloning a human being, but may harvest and grow ES cells for therapeutic purposes from a human embryo.

About the Speaker

Rudolf Jaenisch

Professor of Biology, MIT Founding Member, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

Jaenisch is one of the founders of transgenic science (gene transfer to create mouse models of human disease). His lab has produced mouse models leading to new understanding of cancers and various neurological diseases.

He received his doctorate in medicine from the University of Munich in 1967. He came to the Whitehead from the University of Hamburg in Germany, where he was head of the Department of Tumor Virology at the Heinrich Pette Institute.

Jaenisch received the 2002 Robert Koch Prize for Excellence in Scientific Achievement. In 2003, he was awarded the Charles Rodolphe Brupbacher Prize for basic research in oncology and was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Jaenisch is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Microbiology, and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

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