Stem cells are a subject of great ethical controversy all over the world. In Hong Kong, researchers have added fuel to the debate by creating live mice out of stem cells from mouse skin cells – but they insist their work won’t lead towards the first human clone.

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“It would not be ethical to attempt to use iPS cells in human reproduction. It is important for science to have ethical boundaries. [It is] in no way meant as a first step in that direction,” Fanyi Zeng of the Shanghai Institute of Medical Genetics at Shanghai Jiao Tong University said.

“We are confident that tremendous good can come from demonstrating the versatility of reprogrammed cells in mice, and this research will be used to… understand the root causes of disease and lead to viable treatments and cures of human afflictions.”

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Stem cells are the body’s root cells, providing the basis for all tissues, organs, and blood. The scientists at Jiao Tong University used pluripotent skin cells, which had been programmed to act like normal stem cells. This discovery is important because it shows that ordinary connective cells can also act as embryonic stem cells, which can morph into any kind of cells. The researchers developed 37 lines of stem cells and derived 3 live births.

Scholars not involved in the research expressed hope that their work would have implications for cancer research. “It will be interesting to see whether mice generated in this fashion have a higher propensity for tumor formation,” Andrew Laslett of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Technology at the Australian Stem Cell Centre in Melbourne, Australia wrote of the developments.

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RMJ
Rachel is a writer and tutor living in Virginia. She loves learning about other cultures and thinks we’re all a little wacky.