What has cloning got to do with stem cell research?

Everyone has probably heard about Dolly the sheep and how she was made using cloning techniques. But what has cloning got to do with stem cell research?
Mouse heart cells made from embryonic stem cells produced by SCNT(M Munsie)

Scientists are interested in making pluripotent stem cells directly from a patient using the same technique that was used to make Dolly. By using this approach, scientists hope to be able to study the development or progression of the disease or illness that the patient is suffering from. This type of cloning is called therapeutic cloning.

Therapeutic cloning uses the somatic cell nuclear transfer (or SCNT) technique which involves taking the nucleus - which contains the genetic material - from a body cell, such as a skin cell, and then transferring the nucleus into an unfertilised egg that has had it's genetic material removed. The egg will then divide in the laboratory and after 5-7 days, embryonic stem cells can be isolated from the SCNT embryo. These embryonic stem cells are genetically identical to the cell from which the nucleus was originally removed.

While scientists have been able to make embryonic stem cells using this approach in monkeys and mice, to date they have not been able to this in man. 

It has been legal for Australian researchers to attempt to make stem cells using therapeutic cloning since 2006 but only if they comply with very strict regulations and obtain a licence for their specific project. 

Reproductive cloning is where the embryo created using SCNT is transferred into a surrogate mother to achieve a pregnancy. In Australia, and many other countries around the world, it is specifically prohibited to attempt to create a new person through reproductive cloning.  

To learn more about the Australian laws that ban reproductive cloning but allow therapeutic cloning please watch The Stem Cell Debate in our video library.