Czech scientist on cloning human embryos

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News that an American company called -Advanced Cell Technology- has cloned the first human embryo, has aroused great interest throughout the whole world and the Czech Republic is no exception. The news brings great hope for the development of cures for such diseases as diabetes, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. As well, it may allow for cell regeneration which would help patients suffering permanent disability following accidents. On the other hand, the news is connected with fears of the possible misuse of human cloning. Olga Szantova asked the Director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine at Prague's Charles University, Prof. Eva Sykova, whether the news had surprised Czech scientists.

"The scientific community was expecting something like that, because many animals have been cloned and therefore it was obvious that somebody would try to clone a human embryo, too. It was a matter of time."

Fears have been expressed that this breakthrough could be misused. Do you and do Czech scientists share these fears?

"I think that the cloning of human embryos is a delicate thing. On the one hand society and a number of people are afraid that it can be misused for cloning some strange individuals. However, I believe that it can be a very important way how to obtain stem cells which can be used for therapy and which are fully compatible with the patient who needs them"

But is it in the hands of scientists to keep what people are afraid of from happening?

"In the hands of scientists and doctors there is no danger, but it should be protected so that some private companies are not making a business out of it. So I think that if it would be allowed to do it officially and under strict laws for scientists and medical doctors, it would be better than to leave it to some private companies."

What is the situation in the Czech Republic? Are Czech scientists considering cloning human embryos?

"They are, because they have experimented with animals and they are prepared to clone the human embryo, too. But so far it has not been done, because the scientists don't want to break any rules. In fact though it is not forbidden so far, in the near future there will be new laws which will be in accordance with European Union laws which will set exact rules for this. But I must say that personally, I am afraid that these rules will be too strict and that to some extent they will prevent research on human embryos."

If you are afraid of that, then why wait? If there are no rules at this point, why not go ahead, what's keeping Czech scientists from doing so?

"That's a difficult question. There are many streams in science. Only one of the ways how to produce stem cells is by producing a human embryo. Currently we are exploring the other possibilities - to get stem cells from embryos left over in clinics dealing with in vitro fertilization, which is also a possibility how to get stem cells. Or we are trying to transform bone marrow, which is also easily available from the same patient who would need them. So, there are other possibilities and it is not clear in the world, which possibility would be the best for the patient. When it is really clear that cloning the human embryo is the best, there will be more research in that direction."

Author: Olga Szantová
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