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'Dolly' pioneer on the cloning debate

Colman shares his views on stem cell research

Colman led the team that brought us Dolly the cloned sheep.
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Medical Research

SINGAPORE (CNN) -- Stem cell research is a hot topic as countries weigh up the pros and cons of allowing scientists to carry out this controversial -- but potentially beneficial -- research.

Dr. Alan Colman, best known for his work in cloning Dolly the sheep, is now based in Singapore. Here he talks to CNN's Eunice Yoon about his views on stem cell research.

Yoon: What do you make of the global ethical debate surrounding stem cell therapy?

Colman: Unfortunately, I think a lot of it is ill informed, in the sense that there are people who, for whatever reason, are going to be totally against embryonic stem cell research. And to some degree, the debate on the other side has tended to talk up the ability of the embryonic stem cells and the imminence of the applications to compensate, if you like, for the hype on the other side. So I somehow feel a balanced argument is somehow not always available to neutral observers.

Yoon: What is the balanced argument?

Colman: The balanced argument is that this is very important research to the benefit of the patient, in the long run. But it's also of enormous importance in giving us basic insight into what goes wrong in disease, and we talk all the time about cell therapy. But there is a camp that believes that the work on stem cells will make us understand better how to stimulate the body to repair itself so that, in fact, the cells coming into another body from a transplant don't necessarily participate in the recovery, but they orchestrate that recovery. They don't take part physically, if you like, as a brick in a house, but they orchestrate the builders and everything to repair that house.

Yoon: What are the risks?

Colman: Well, the risks are varied. The risk is that the cells won't work and then, of course, the treatment's no use. There's a risk, of course, that the cells will do something they're not supposed to do in the body, and this is why extensive safety testing will have to be done. We can't know that at the moment. We can do what we can to reduce the risk we anticipate but we will only be able to deal with true risks that emerge once we get into the testing phase.

Yoon: You're known for your work on cloning Dolly the sheep. What are your thoughts on therapeutic cloning?

Colman: Therapeutic cloning will be very useful in providing embryonic stem cells for diseases that have a developmental effect, which is manifested during early development of the human. So, if you can make embryonic stem cells from cells taken from such individuals you might, in the laboratory, be able to look at what's going wrong early in development. So this wouldn't be to the benefit of the patient who donated the cell but it would be to the benefit of all future sufferers from that disease.

People talk about it as being a way of curing yourself. That if you're ill, you can donate one of your healthy cells, get embryonic stem cells made, which can then be converted into the tissue that's sick inside of you. My own view is that will be far too expensive, too difficult ethically, in some ways, using the models we have today where you need an awful lot of human eggs just to make one line and I think it will take too long.

Yoon: Do you think it's possible to clone a human being?

Colman: Yes, I do.

Yoon: So you think that it would actually happen? Are there a lot of risks involved?

Colman: I think there are an enormous number of risks. Risks of late abortions, deformed fetuses. I mean I'm very much against it, but you're asking me if it's possible, I think it is possible. If you're asking me would someone attempt it, I think there are people who are evil and stupid enough to attempt it. Will they succeed? I think, ultimately, if enough attempts were made, I think someone would succeed, yes.

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