Research updates
Stem cells & therapeutic cloning   page 1
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1. Introduction Link to the Medical Research Council web site
Research on human stem cells may bring huge medical benefits, leading to major advances in the treatments of cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis and a range of degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. However, much, though not all, stem cell work would involve using human embryos. This work is now permitted in the UK but is controversial. Some stem cell research would require so-called therapeutic cloning. This, if anything, is even more controversial.



Until recently few people had ever heard of stem cells. Now daily newspapers have full page articles on them and politicians debate them. But what exactly are stem cells, what have they got to do with cloning and why all the fuss over them?

This Research Update will answer these questions. It will explain the potential that stem cell research has for human health and it will explore the reasons why some people are uncomfortable about the work that may be carried out in this area. But first we need to look at the different types of cloning and see the connection between this and stem cells.

Figure 1. Professor Julia Polak is Director of the Tissue Engineering Centre at The Hammersmith Hospital.

Her research involves using stem cells. In the year 2000 her group succeeded in growing the bone cells of an adult patient on a glass-like material which acts as a 'scaffold'. If all goes well, this work should lead to the production of artificially grown bone. Such bone could then be given to patients with serious bone disorders.

As Julia Polak has said 'This discovery is a significant step forward in the fight against osteoporosis and in the development of better treatment for bone injuries.'

You can download a pdf file of the teachers' notes.

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