Restrictions and changing interests prompt move
One of the most significant developments to affect the realm of biological research in the past two years has been the successful cloning of patient-specific embryonic stem cells. Subsequently, the scientist who developed the technique, Shoukhrat Mitalipov, Ph.D., of the Oregon Health and Science University in Beaverton, Oregon, rose to a prominent role in the scientific community. Recently, however, Mitalipov shocked the scientific community when he announced his anticipated move to China.
Since developing the watershed technique in cloning, Mitalipov’s research interest has shifted to the application of the process to treat mitochondrial disease. This is done by replacing defective mitochondria in the egg prior to fertilization. The eggs can produce offspring using in vitro fertilization. The technique has shown success in non-human primate models, and Mitalipov is eager to move to human trials. However, his goal to move this technique to the clinic is looking dismal, at least in the United States.
Since 1995, much of the research in the field of human embryonic stem cells has been met with opposition. In 1995, Congress passed the Dickey-Wicker Amendment, which, for ethical reasons, denied government funding for any research aimed at developing human embryonic stem cells and research that resulted in the destruction of embryos. For much of the last 20 years, stem cell research was funded privately. Only in the last seven years has President Barack Obama begun to loosen restrictions on government funding for human stem cell projects. The progress has been too slow and the opposition too great for Mitalipov so he has decided to take his laboratory abroad in hopes of fewer restrictions.
Mitalipov has announced that he will be moving his lab to China, where he expects to encounter less resistance from government regulations. In an agreement signed Jan. 13 in Jeju, South Korea, Mitalipov committed to Boyalife in the hopes of seeing his research applied in a clinical setting. Mitalipov is not restricting himself solely to research in China, however. He said he remains open to other opportunities around the world, most notably in the United Kingdom, which has recently lifted bans on the use of such techniques on humans.
Feb. 20, 2015