China clones macaques, Vatican sounds caution 中國催生複製猴 梵蒂岡發出警示

Sun, Feb 04, 2018 - Page 9

On Jan. 20, the Web site of the international academic journal Cell announced a significant breakthrough by Chinese scientists, who successfully cloned monkeys using the somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) technique. This represents the first time monkeys have ever been cloned using this technique.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences Institute of Neuroscience research team, led by Sun Qiang, was able to overcome difficulties surrounding the cloning of the animals with somatic cells, a method similar to the one that created the famous Dolly the Sheep.

According to Sun, since the birth of Dolly, scientists have successfully applied the SCNT technique to clone other mammals such as horses, cattle, rabbits, cats, dogs and camels, among others, but the cloning of primates, which are genetically similar to human beings, has always presented problems. The significance of the successful cloning of the monkeys lies in being able to produce “a large number of monkeys with the same genetic background within one year to serve as models in which human diseases can be simulated.”

Sun says that the production of monkeys as models for simulating human neurological diseases will bring new possibilities for research into the mechanisms, interventions and treatments of brain diseases, especially with promoting R&D for new drugs targeting neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and autism, as well as immunodeficiencies, tumors and metabolic disorders.

The mice normally used as models in medical drug R&D are genetically very different from humans, and candidate drugs derived from testing on mice at huge costs in terms of effort and research funding are often found to be ineffective in human patients, or lead to unacceptable side effects.

The Vatican responded cautiously to this scientific and medical breakthrough. Msgr Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, was critical of the development, saying “Not everything that is possible is right.”

The research was an important scientific development, the Vatican’s top bioethics official said, but “we must always consider the effects of our interventions on the ecosystem and weigh the risk of making mistakes in the management of new know-how which may in the future lead us to interventions on the human body.” According to Paglia, animal rights also deserve to be protected, and such experiments should only be employed “in the absence of alternative methods in acquiring knowledge and therapeutic tools.”

(CNA, Translated by Chang Ho-ming)