Therapeutic Cloning vs. Reproductive Cloning

In the past few decades, there has been much talk about the place that cloning should have in our society. Recent advances in cloning procedures have sparked great controversy and debate over the entire cloning issue, and many laws have been passed banning cloning for specific purposes. In general, there are two main purposes for cloning: medical therapy and reproduction. Known as therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning, both of these procedures are being used actively in some countries for research purposes. Although umbilical cord blood stem cells are not currently used for either type of cloning procedure, there is hope that some day they will be.

What is Cloning?
Cloning refers to the process of making a genetic duplicate of something that already exists. We often think of cloning in human or animal terms - for instance, Dolly, the cloned-sheep - however, single cells and genes can also be cloned. There are a variety of different ways to clone an organism and these procedures are governed by different organizations in every country.

Cloning has been a highly controversial subject as of late, but in fact, cloning has been around for many years. Plants have been cloned for decades and the first animal to be cloned was a tadpole in the 1950s. Since that time, a number of animals have been cloned, including sheep, cows and mice.

Types of Cloning
There are two main types of cloning: reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. These procedures are governed by different laws because they are used for different purposes.


Reproductive Cloning

Reproductive cloning is performed with the express intent of creating another organism. This organism is the exact duplicate of one that already exists or has existed in the past. Cloning of plants, animals, and humans falls into the class of reproductive cloning.

How is Reproductive Cloning Performed?
Reproductive cloning is performed using a technique called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT). The genetic material from a donor egg is removed, so that you are left with an empty egg. Then, a cell is taken from the organism to be cloned and its nucleus is removed. This nucleus is then transferred into the empty donor egg. Using chemicals or a mild electric shock, the egg is forced to divide, creating an embryo. This embryo is then transferred into the uterus of the host organism.

What Is Reproductive Cloning Used For?
Reproductive cloning has only been used for research purposes, however, its future implications are staggering. Reproductive cloning could be used effectively for repopulating endangered species or to help make breeding of specific animals easier. Reproductive cloning uses could also include the production of organisms with specific characteristics, such as drug-producing animals or genetically "unique" animals.


Therapeutic Cloning

Therapeutic cloning is performed, not to produce another organism, but to harvest embryonic stem cells for use in medical treatments. Embryonic stem cells are those cells found inside of developing embryos. They can be used to produce a number of different cells including tissue, muscle, and organ cells.

How is Therapeutic Cloning Performed?
The therapeutic cloning process is very similar to that of reproductive cloning, however, instead of implanting the dividing embryo into a host, it's stem cells are removed and the embryo dies. A cell is removed from the patient requiring medical treatment. The nucleus of this cell is removed and inserted into an empty donor egg. Division is encouraged through the use of special chemicals or an electric current. The resulting embryonic stem cells are then removed from this embryo and used to treat the patient.

What is Therapeutic Cloning Used For?
Therapeutic cloning is intended for medical use. The embryonic stem cells that this type of cloning produces can be used to create skin for burn victims, organs for transplant patients, or cells for those with spinal cord injuries. And because the cells come from the patient herself, there are no issues of cell rejection. Therapeutic cloning may also help those suffering from heart disease, Alzheimer's Disease, or Parkinson's Disease.


Ethical Concerns about Cloning

There are a number of ethical concerns surrounding the use of reproductive and therapeutic cloning. Many people are against the cloning of embryos or the use of embryonic stem cells for research or therapeutic purposes.

Reproductive cloning is of particular concern. Many people see the cloning of plants and animals as interfering with the progression of nature. People also fear that human cloning could take place, and could result in the cloning of human babies tailored to specific genetic characteristics.

Therapeutic cloning is also hotly debated. Because human embryos are destroyed after the stem cells are removed, many see therapeutic cloning as unnatural and even barbaric. For this reason, many countries do not allow therapeutic cloning.


Cord Blood Stem Cells and Cloning

If you have chosen to store your child's cord blood, these umbilical stem cells can be used to help treat him in the event of illness or disease. In the future, it may be possible to use cloning techniques to help reproduce these stem cells, so that more are available for your family's use.

Many feel that using umbilical cord blood stem cells for therapeutic cloning is a more ethically and morally responsible way to clone human tissue. Additionally, obtaining stem cells from umbilical cord blood is much simpler than collecting stem cells from other sources. As stem cell knowledge and techniques advance, the ability to use cord blood stem cells in more diverse ways becomes more of a reality every day.

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