Latest Developments in Stem Cell Research – New Challenges for the Prohibition of Reproductive Cloning?
The method of nuclear transfer made famous by the cloned sheep Dolly, and which has already been used to successfully clone several animal species, led to the production of human embryonic stem cells for the first time in 2013, following the transfer of cell nuclei from human skin cells into enucleated oocytes.
Stem cells can also be obtained by genetically reprogramming somatic cells. Such so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) resemble embryonic stem cells: They can develop into many different cell types, including germ cells. Under special experimental conditions, mouse iPS cells even resulted in embryos that matured into viable mice.
Technically, human cloning seems to be feasible through nuclear transfer as well as reprogramming. In principle, this is prohibited in Germany by the Embryo Protection Act. In view of current technical developments, however, the Health Minsters Conference of the federal states has raised the question of the extent to which the new technologies are covered by current legislation and whether a review of the legislation might be necessary. The Conference has asked the German Ethics Council to address this question. In this context, the Ethics Council will question three experts from the fields of science, ethics and law in a public hearing on 8 May.