In this issue, Scott Noggle and colleagues describe the generation of human pluripotent stem cells using somatic cells and human oocytes, a technique that bypasses ethical concerns about exploiting fertilized embryos for their medical potential (Nature 478, 70–75; 2011).
The cell lines were produced at the New York Stem Cell Foundation using private funds, in accordance with the Empire State Stem Cell Board's policy of compensating egg providers for research. Unfortunately, many scientists will not have access to these cells, owing to regulations that prevent the publicly funded use of stem cells derived from research embryos and compensated egg donors. These policies — including those in place in California and at the US National Institutes of Health — are well intentioned, but possibly misguided.
To generate their stem-cell lines, Noggle et al. use human oocytes in a new twist to the cloning technique known as somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Societal fears about reproductive cloning should not force knee-jerk legislation to ban all forms of human SCNT. The use of this technique in research has a clearly regulated goal: to provide patient-specific stem-cell lines to help treat human disease, just like the almost universally supported research involving induced pluripotent stem cells, which are derived artificially from somatic cells.
Regulatory policies for SCNT in different states and countries must be in agreement, and should adhere to the ethical guidelines for oocyte procurement issued by the International Society for Stem Cell Research. This will help to ensure that SCNT research proceeds with the requisite oversight and fair recruitment and compensation practices for oocyte providers (see also Nature 442, 629–630; 2006).
P.T. is funded as a Robertson Investigator of the New York Stem Cell Foundation but had no involvement in the study by Noggle et al.