It’s been done with sheep, frogs, mice and even infant human cells, but no one had had success in cloning cells from adults, a much more challenging feat since decades of development have to be erased and reprogrammed. Dr. Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at biotech firm Advanced Cell Technology, working with a group of researchers at CHA University in South Korea, changed all that.
His team inserted DNA from a donor cell into an egg stripped of its own genetic code, but the goal isn’t to create mini-mes. Instead, the method could mean a new way to make stem cells, which could then be turned into new nerve, muscle or insulin-producing cells to treat or even cure diseases like Alzheimer’s and diabetes.
The breakthrough is sweet for Lanza, who spent years defending work on stem cells extracted from excess IVF embryos at a time when lawmakers and the White House banned federal funding for some studies. The controversies may continue, but thanks to Lanza the science will too.
Park covers health and medicine for TIME and is the author of The Stem Cell Hope