Yesterday a paper (“Human Embryonic Stem Cells Derived by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer” in Cell) came out that reported for the first time the production of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) by the method of early embryo cloning via somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).

This approach, technically called "therapeutic cloning" means that in theory hESC could be made from any of us and be given back to us as a self or autologous transplant.

Powerful stuff!

However, this advance is also (despite the talking points being advanced by some of my colleagues to the contrary) a real big step toward the other kind of human cloning: reproductive cloning.

 See a nifty diagram here explaining the two kinds of cloning visually.

This other kind of cloning is the type in Star Wars. But today human cloning seems to be getting closer to reality and less constrained just to sci-fi.

Remarkably, while the US FDA has indicated that it has the regulatory authority to oversee human reproductive cloning (should it ever be possible), the process is not technically illegal in the US. So if someone cloned you or Einstein or Justin Bieber or Sheldon Cooper (if he were real), I do not believe they would be thrown in jail. The FDA would tell them to stop it, but wouldn't it be a little too late at that point?

The paper that came out in Cell makes reproductive cloning a whole lot more likely. While the lead author has stated that cloning monkeys hasn't worked out, it is possible that it may work in humans and the "monkey wrenches" in monkey cloning will certainly be resolved as well.

On the positive side, the clinical potential of therapeutic cloning is a big deal and exciting. And to be clear I support the work reported in the paper, but let's just be clear and honest that this finding does bear on human reproductive cloning too.