The South Korean government passed the Bioethics and Biosafety Act, known henceforth as the Bioethics Act, in 2003 and it took effect in 2005. South Korea's Ministry of Health and Welfare proposed the law to the South Korean National Assembly to allow the progress of biotechnology and life sciences research in South Korea while protecting human research subjects with practices such as informed consent. The Bioethics Act establishes a National Bioethics Committee in Seoul, South Korea. The Bioethics Act is the first law in South Korea to regulate research on embryonic stem cells and in vitro fertilization. Most South Korean bioethical policies rely on this act and its provisions.
In 2006, Kazutoshi Takahashi and Shinya Yamanaka reprogrammed mice fibroblast cells, which can produce only other fibroblast cells, to become pluripotent stem cells, which have the capacity to produce many different types of cells. Takahashi and Yamanaka also experimented with human cell cultures in 2007. Each worked at Kyoto University in Kyoto, Japan. They called the pluripotent stem cells that they produced induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) because they had induced the adult cells, called differentiated cells, to become pluripotent stem cells through genetic manipulation. Yamanaka received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2012, along with John Gurdon, as their work showed scientists how to reprogram mature cells to become pluripotent. Takahashi and Yamanaka's 2006 and 2007 experiments showed that scientists can prompt adult body cells to dedifferentiate, or lose specialized characteristics, and behave similarly to embryonic stem cells (ESCs).
The US President's Council on Bioethics was an organization headquartered in Washington D.C. that was chartered to advise then US President George W. Bush on ethical issues related to biomedical science and technology. In November 2001, US President George W. Bush created the President's Council on Bioethics (PCB). Convened during a nationwide cloning and embryonic stem cell research debate, the Council stated that it worked to address arguments about ethics from many different perspectives. The organization enacted a model for analyzing bioethical issues through deliberation instead of through the consensus approach. US President Barack Obama replaced the PCB in 2009 with his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.
When cells-but not DNA-from two or more genetically distinct individuals combine to form a new individual, the result is called a chimera. Though chimeras occasionally occur in nature, scientists have produced chimeras in a laboratory setting since the 1960s. During the creation of a chimera, the DNA molecules do not exchange genetic material (recombine), unlike in sexual reproduction or in hybrid organisms, which result from genetic material exchanged between two different species. A chimera instead contains discrete cell populations with two unique sets of parental genes. Chimeras can occur when two independent organisms fuse at a cellular level to form one organism, or when a population of cells is transferred from one organism to another. Chimeras created in laboratories have helped scientists to identify developmental mechanisms and processes across species. Some experiments involving chimeras aim to provide further knowledge of immune reactions against disease or to create animal models to understand human disease.
To educate its citizens about research into chimeras made from human and non-human animal cells, the United Kingdom's Human Fertilisation Embryology Authority published the consultation piece Hybrids and Chimeras: A Consultation on the Ethical and Social Implications of Creating Human/Animal Embryos in Research, in 2007. The document provided scientific and legal background, described ethical and social issues associated with research using part-human part-animal embryos, supplied a questionnaire for citizens to return to the HFEA with their opinions, and offered a list of resources for further reading to stimulate public debate. The strategy of surveying the public provided a template for developing further policy in the United Kingdom and other countries, as well as for educating citizens on embryological research.
In 2007, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in London, UK, published Hybrids and Chimeras: A Report on the Findings of the Consultation, which summarized a public debate about research on, and suggested policy for, human animal chimeras. The HFEA formulated the report after conducting a series of surveys and debates from earlier in 2007. The HFEA issued a statement in September 2007, followed by an official report published on 1 October 2007. Their report on human-animal chimeras set a worldwide precedent for discussions of the ethical use of those embryos in labs. The HFEA's report led the UK government to pass legislature about the use of human-animal cytoplasmic hybrid embryos for research in the UK.
Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research: Executive Summary was published in September 1999 by The US National Bioethics Advisory Commission in response to a national debate about whether or not the US federal government should fund embryonic stem cell research. Ethical Issues in Human Stem Cell Research recommended policy to US President William Clinton's administration, which advocated for federal spending on the use of stem research on stem cells that came from embryos left over from in vitro fertilization (IVF) fertility treatments. Although NBAC's proposals never became legislation, the report helped shape public, private, and international discourse on stem cell research policy.
Telomeres are sequences of DNA on the ends of chromosomes that protect chromosomes from sticking to each other or tangling, which could cause irregularities in normal DNA functions. As cells replicate, telomeres shorten at the end of chromosomes, which correlates to senescence or cellular aging. Integral to this process is telomerase, which is an enzyme that repairs telomeres and is present in various cells in the human body, especially during human growth and development. Telomeres and telomerase are required for normal human embryonic development because they protect DNA as it completes multiple rounds of replication.
Sir John Bertrand Gurdon further developed nuclear transplantation, the technique used to clone organisms and to create stem cells, while working in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century. Gurdon's research built on the work of Thomas King and Robert Briggs in the United States, who in 1952 published findings that indicated that scientists could take a nucleus from an early embryonic cell and successfully transfer it into an unfertilized and enucleated egg cell. Briggs and King also concluded that a nucleus taken from an adult cell and similarly inserted into an unfertilized enucleated egg cell could not produce normal development. In 1962, however, Gurdon published results that indicated otherwise. While Briggs and King worked with Rana pipiens frogs, Gurdon used the faster-growing species Xenopus laevis to show that nuclei from specialized cells still held the potential to be any cell despite its specialization. In 2012, the Nobel Prize Committee awarded Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka its prize in physiology and medicine for for their work on cloning and pluripotent stem cells.
During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Robert Paul Lanza studied embryonic stem cells, tissues, and endangered species as chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology, Incorporated in Worcester, Massachusetts. Lanza's team cloned the endangered species of gaur Bos gaurus. Although the gaur did not survive long, Lanza successfully cloned another cow-like creature, called the banteng (Bos javanicus). Lanza also worked on cloning human embryos to harvest stem cells, which could be used to treat dieases. While previous techniques required the embryo's destruction, Lanza developed a harvesting technique that does not destroy the embryo, forestalling many ethical objections to human embryonic research.