Walstreet Journal Online



Therapeutic Cloning Is Good for America


Congress will soon vote on whether to ban therapeutic cloning, known to scientists as nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells. Its decision will have a major impact on the nation's position as a world leader in scientific research. A ban would both deny us the fruits of a very promising technology and have a chilling effect on medical research. As with other powerful technologies that carry risks, what is called for is a regulatory framework, not a legal ban.

America's research enterprise has evolved as a flexible partnership between government, universities and industry. The government not only funds research directly, but by putting emphasis on basic research at universities, it has also fostered a research culture that cherishes innovation. This gave us a critical advantage during the Cold War and remains vital to our leadership in science.

The development of technologies that have made cloning possible has forced us -- scientists, policy makers, citizens -- to grapple with issues we have never had to confront before. Fortunately, there is almost universal agreement that one form of cloning -- that of human beings -- is so unsafe and, to some, morally repugnant that it should be banned. But it would be unfortunate if this ban were extended to nuclear transplantation to produce stem cells. Here, a nucleus from an adult cell is placed in an unfertilized egg without a nucleus, and the reconstituted cell is allowed to divide multiple times to produce stem cells. This has enormous potential for generating treatments for incurable diseases. Deriving stem cells in this way allows the replacement of diseased tissues with healthy ones that should not be rejected by the body as foreign.

A broad ban would stifle innovation in a key area of biomedical research. Scientists would have to leave the U.S. or switch to other fields. At a time when foreign pharmaceutical companies are moving their research units to the U.S. because of our support for unfettered research, a ban on nuclear transplantation to derive stem cells will cause them to think twice.

We believe that Congress should take an approach that is more consistent with the research policies that have been in place for half a century. The National Academy of Sciences has concluded that cloning procedures are currently not safe for humans and that no responsible scientists or physicians are likely to undertake to clone a human. We oppose reproductive cloning and support a ban on that practice. We also recognize that therapeutic cloning carries risks, a major risk being that an unscrupulous investigator would use it as a cover for reproductive cloning. We therefore believe that it should go forward in a controlled environment. We need safeguards, not a ban. It pays to remember that 25 years ago, recombinant DNA technology was as controversial as nuclear-transfer technology is today. There were calls for an outright ban.

Yet in the end, Congress and the administration worked with scientists to put in place a regulatory regime for recombinant DNA technology that protected against abuses while allowing society to benefit. The result: a harvest of knowledge, the creation of a new industry – biotechnology -- in which the U.S. is pre-eminent, and new medicines of unprecedented power.

The outlines of a regulatory framework are already emerging as Congress prepares to address cloning. FDA regulation of biologics and tissue transplantation could be expanded to create an oversight process that would approve and monitor every scientific effort for producing stem cells. Misuse could be made indictable under laws prohibiting attempts to clone a person. The U.K. has successfully regulated nuclear transplantation for the making of matched stem cells, and we could certainly do so as well.

American researchers have made invaluable contributions to the nation's security, the economy, and the well-being of people around the globe. A process that regulates, but allows, therapeutic cloning is the best way to ensure that American science will continue to make such contributions and will keep American scientists in their leadership position.

Ms. Tilghman, a molecular biologist, is president of Princeton. Mr. Baltimore, a Nobel laureate biologist, is president of Caltech.