Mitotic cell growth is not organismal cloning

Friday, 20 June, 2008

Well, very technically I guess it is, but it’s very misleading in common parlance. Somebody should tell the BBC, who on Wednesday this week published a story about how cloning has ‘cured’ cancer, with the quotes around cure (despite the fact the patient was cured) but not around cloning (despite the fact that cloning is misleading). The story begins with this statement:

Scientists claim they have cured advanced skin cancer for the first time using the patient’s own cells cloned outside the body.

Well, I don’t know about you but I looked through the story and I couldn’t find any reference to what I was looking for: therapeutic cloning. The closest, which is nowhere near, was this part:

From a sample of the man’s white blood cells, they were able to select CD4+ T cells which had been specifically primed to attack a chemical found on the surface of melanoma cells. These were then multiplied in the laboratory, and put back in their billions to see if they could mount an effective attack on the tumours.

It’s just cells grown by boring old mitosis. Technically, this is cloning because it is producing a set of progeny cells genetically identical to the original cell – i.e. cellular cloning. But when most people think of cloning, they think of organismal cloning: the creating of other animals with the same DNA (and those who don’t know much about biotech will think this is like creating a person who is completely identical, not just genetically identical).

Therapeutic cloning refers to creating an identical organism, an embryo, and harvesting cells from that embryo for therapeutic use.

So, I think it’s somewhat misleading to say a “cloning cure” without qualifying it, especially when we are awaiting the time when humans will be cured from therapeutic cloning (or at least, waiting for this news to be released). At least The Telegraph wasn’t guilty.


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