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Slate's Human Nature: S. Korean Stem Cell Advance

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Slate's Human Nature: S. Korean Stem Cell Advance

Research News

Slate's Human Nature: S. Korean Stem Cell Advance

Slate's Human Nature: S. Korean Stem Cell Advance

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Alex Chadwick talks with Slate contributor Will Saletan about the latest developments in stem cell research. This week, South Korean scientists announced they successfully created embryonic stem cells that genetically match injured or sick patients — a breakthrough with huge promise to treat disease and injury.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

President Bush has already spoken out about news from South Korea late yesterday that scientists there have managed to clone human stem cells for medical research. The president said today he doesn't like it.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: I am--first I'm very concerned about cloning. I worry about a world in which cloning becomes acceptable. Secondly, I made my position very clear on embryonics...

Unidentified Man: Thank you.

Pres. BUSH: ...in order to save life is--I'm against that. And therefore if the bill does that, I will veto it.

CHADWICK: The president speaking about a bipartisan bill in Congress that would loosen federal restrictions on stem-cell research.

I spoke earlier with Slate's Will Saletan. He writes about the nexus between science and politics. Here he is.

Will, thank you for agreeing to explain this to us. What exactly is the significance of this most recent announcement?

WILL SALETAN (Slate): Well, it used to take hundreds of attempts to produce a clone. You took that to produce Dolly the sheep. It still took hundreds the last time the Koreans announced that they had cloned a human embryo. This time they did multiple clones of multiple people, and they did it at a ratio that is roughly equivalent to what it would take you to do in vitro fertilization, something a lot of people are familiar with. They were able to get a clone in a stem-cell line in basically one of 17 eggs used. So this makes cloning, human therapeutic cloning, a feasible reality for everybody.

CHADWICK: They have allowed the embryo to develop to the point where they could extract stem cells and clone them; that's what they've done?

SALETAN: Yeah, and that is crucial. They derived the actual stem-cell lines for each of these patients, nine of the 11 patients. And every one of these patients had some disease that theoretically might be cured or they could help cure it with these stem cell lines. So when this news hits the fan, what it's going to look like to most people is, `My goodness, they can do this procedure and have immediate medical benefits for all these patients.'

CHADWICK: But when an announcement like this comes out, what does that mean in terms of what can I do to get help with my particular illness? Is this something that is going to help people in the next three years, five years, what?

SALETAN: No, and I think the scientists involved would tell you they don't want to encourage false hopes in anybody that this is going to produce a cure tomorrow. What we know as a result of this experiment is that we've cleared this hurdle and we can move on to the next one.

CHADWICK: There are these limited lines of stem cells that the Bush administration has OK'd for federally funded research in this country. Is this Korean development going to help with that?

SALETAN: Yeah. Well, what--this development will basically increase the number of ways in which the federal government of the United States is becoming moot in this issue. I mean, it's a strange thing to say, but President Bush only controls the federal government of the United States. He does not control the policy of the state of California. He does not control the other states. He does not control the world. And researchers are leaving the red states that ban cloning to go to the blue states that fund it. They're leaving the United States to go to other countries that are doing this research. And eventually the United States Congress is going to say, `You know what? We're really not stopping anything. We don't want to be left behind. Let's move. Let's join the rest of the world.'

CHADWICK: Opinion and analysis from Will Saletan. He writes the Human Nature column for our partners at Slate magazine.

Thanks, Will.

SALETAN: Thank you, Alex.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. DAY TO DAY returns in just a moment.

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