"Campbell Discusses Cloning Research, Benefits"

Keith Campbell, professor of animal development at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom and one of the top researchers of animal cloning, spoke about his research, the future of cloning and its benefits at a lecture Tuesday night at Daemen College.

Campbell was involved in the creation of "Dolly," the first sheep cloned from an adult cell.

The biologist/embryologist began his work with cloning in 1991 at the Roslin Institute in Scotland, where he used his knowledge of cell growth and differentiation to produce cloned embryos using the process of nuclear transfer.

During nuclear transfer, the DNA, cytoplasm and organelles of an unfertilized egg are removed, and the nucleus of a body cell is inserted into the egg. An electric current, similar to the charge that occurs during fertilization, is passed through the egg to stimulate cell fusion. In essence, the electric charge, which fuses the genetic material together, tricks the egg into thinking it has been fertilized, and thus it will replicate.

According to Campbell, problems occur as cell fusion takes place. If the genetic material from the egg and the donor cell nucleus are in different stages of division, fertilization will not take place and an embryo will not form.

To solve this problem, Campbell and his colleagues took the donor cells and put them to "sleep" by depriving the cells of some nutrients. They then took the DNA from an egg and followed the process of nuclear transfer.

"We obtained five live lambs . unfortunately, two of them died within minutes of birth and one died ten days later," said Campbell. "The other two lambs were very healthy and they were called Megan and Morag."

Dolly was made through such a process, a nuclear transfer using epithelial cells as the donor. However, Campbell's research has not been limited to sheep; he was involved in the first cloning of piglets, a cat in Texas, and rabbits in France. Despite such cases, Campbell said, cloning technology is far from perfect.

"[The technology] is not very efficient; in fact, it's atrocious," he said. "From the time we do this fusion - all the way through embryonic, fetal development, at birth and up to six months later - these embryos, fetuses and adults die."

"Ninety-eight percent of the embryos won't make it . we need to find ways to improve the frequency," said Campbell.

Though the technology is imperfect, scientists continue to pursue these goals because of the many benefits associated with cloning technology. A current project involves creating milk without allergens, and milk with proteins to heal broken bones and cuts or treat people with cystic fibrosis.

"We were looking to produce human proteins to treat human genetic disorders in the milk so we wanted to produce protein in the milk of cattle and sheep," said Campbell.

Pig organs are very similar in size and shape to those in humans, Campbell explained, but if they were transplanted into a human they would be immediately rejected. Campbell said that if scientists could "modify the organs of the pig in such a way that they would not be recognized as foreign by our bodies and would survive," then there would be hope that a receiving patient would survive, as well.

While President George W. Bush is pushing for legislation that would ban human cloning and stem cell research in the United States, Campbell admitted that human cloning is feasible.

"[Human cloning] is possible," said Campbell. "The problem is getting surrogate recipients . and getting quality oocytes (eggs)."

Though cloning may produce a carbon copy of a person, it does not mean the clone will turn out exactly like its parent, he noted.

"We're not just products of our genes," said Campbell. "If we did start cloning people, they probably would be different."

The long-term effects of these experiments have yet to be determined, as the lifespan of cloned animals or humans is still unknown and scientists are not sure if genetic defects will appear later in life, Campbell said.

He also pondered "the pressure put on the cloned child to be like the person it was cloned by."

"I don't know about you, but I don't want to bring myself up," Campbell said.

Nuclear transfer can also be used to make stem cells, which are grown in a dish and have the ability to become any of the cell types found in the body.

"If we can take a cell from an adult and go through nuclear transfer . then we aren't going to grow a baby," said Campbell. "What we're going to do is grow an embryo . and then transplant those cells back."

According to Campbell, this technology could be used to replace cells damaged by Parkinson's Disease or Alzheimer's.