What is the future of genetic cloning

Monkey clones raise questions about the future of research

ARE CLONES ETHICAL?

Animal experiments with monkeys have long been controversial. Animal welfare groups condemn experiments on non-human primates as cruel precisely because they are so similar to us. They also view the cloning of the animals with concern and point out the miscarriages, the low-social environment, the rearing by hand and other unnatural stress factors for the animals.

"It gives the impression that animals are interchangeable, that they are goods that we can use as and when we need them," said Kathleen Conlee, vice president of Animal Research Issues for the Humane Society in the United States. “Is it appropriate to have an animal that you can do whatever you want with? [...] That creates a bad dynamic for our general treatment of animals. "

China in particular is often viewed critically when it comes to animal welfare, as the country has no nationwide laws against cruelty to animals. The study's authors say they comply with U.S. National Institutes of Health animal welfare regulations and look after macaque welfare. (Worth reading: China: Freedom for the pandas)

It's entirely possible that advances in genetic engineering and computer modeling will reduce the need for laboratory monkeys, says Eliza Bliss-Moreau, a neuroscientist at the California National Primate Research Center. “Technology has made such advances in the past decade,” she says. "Some of the questions in the behavioral and neurosciences that could be answered with [cloning] are already being dealt with in other ways."

However, many biomedical researchers insist that primate models are still needed to study complex human diseases and disorders such as Parkinson's, AIDS, and autism. "I don't think we will ever find a way to completely do without non-human primates in biomedical research," says Van Rompay. "It would be great if it came to that, but at the moment in-vitro models and computer models are not enough."

Johns Hopkins University bioethicist Jeffrey Kahn is an expert on the use of primates in biomedical research and says the questions this new study raises are very complex. “Should we invest in it or in organ chips? I don't think it's that easy. "

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR HUMAN CLONING?

In short, the study suggests that, from a purely technical point of view, human cloning will become possible within the next few months or years. "The genie has now been let out of the bottle," says Jose Cibelli, a cloning expert at Michigan State University who was not involved in the study.

But whether one should approach human cloning for reproductive purposes is a completely different question. All the scientists interviewed by National Geographic stress that human cloning is currently irresponsible and unnecessary. "There is currently no reason to clone humans," says Poo. "This topic has to be discussed on an international level."

The bioethicist Kahn is also in favor of a global debate: “What should we do about it? By 'we' I mean society, countries, regulators, governments, ”he says. "What kind of controls do we think we need to prevent bad things from happening to people in the context of this technology?"

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The Chinese research team will monitor the health of Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua over the long term, including brain development. According to the co-authors, the Shanghai government is a big supporter of their research and is already sponsoring plans to expand their laboratory to more than ten times the size. They hope that Chinese society - whose outlook on animal welfare is changing rapidly - will continue to be open to research on non-human primates.

"With all of these improvements and high ethical standards, I think Chinese society will accept that," says Poo. "I hope that the societies of Western countries will change their minds little by little, once we have demonstrated that the cloned monkeys are useful in curing diseases."

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