Scientists announced a biomedical breakthrough last Wednesday with the first successful cloning of a primate. Ethical issues abound, but the scientific community is excited by the possibility that the ability to create genetically identical primates will pave the way for novel treatments to human diseases like cancer.
The plaintiffs’ bar might also be excited by this news. Plaintiffs alleging harm from a toxic substance must convince a court that their injury was caused by that substance and not something else. This is a tall order for plaintiffs suffering diseases like the neurological disorders Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s which are associated with genetic factors along with exposure to a wide range of environmental toxins. But primate cloning could significantly enhance the ability of scientists to disentangle the independent effects of genetic and environmental influences on human disease. Demonstrating the absence of a genetic predisposition for a given disease could make it easier for some plaintiffs to convince a court that their disease was in fact caused by a toxic exposure. On the other hand, as we’ve seen in benzene-related litigation, those plaintiffs who do display a clear genetic predisposition to a given disease may face even greater obstacles to recovery.
He says one possible use might be to explore how genes and the environment interact in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease in which the influence of nongenetic factors is poorly understood. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases “are the first two we are thinking about” for disease research using cloned monkeys, Poo [the lead scientist on the study] notes.