Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Human-animal Hybrid Embryos Created in Newcastle

Human-animal Hybrid Embryos Created in Newcastle Wednesday, 02 April 2008 Britain's first human-animal hybrid embryos have been created, forming a crucial first step, scientists believe, towards a supply of stem cells that could be used to investigate debilitating and so far untreatable conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's and motor neurone disease. Lyle Armstrong, who led the work, gained permission in January from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to create the embryos, known as "cytoplasmic hybrids". He presented the preliminary findings of the project at a conference at the Sennet in Israel the 25th March 2008. His team at Newcastle University produced the embryos by inserting human “banked” cells - derived from a human embryonic stem cell line from Newcastle (Ncl-1) - into a hollowed-out cow egg. An electric shock then induced the hybrid embryo to grow. The embryo, 99.9% human and 0.1% other animal, grew for three days, until it had 32 cells. Eventually, scientists hope to grow such embryos for six days, and then extract stem cells from them. The researchers insisted the embryos would never be implanted into a woman and that the only reason they used cow eggs was due to the scarcity of human eggs. John Burn, head of the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University, said the embryos had been created purely for research and that the research is entirely ethical. He told the BBC's Six O'Clock News last night: "If you look down the microscope it looks like semolina and it stays like that. It's never going to be anything other than a pile of cells. What it does is give us the tools to find out the simple questions: how can we better understand the disease processes by working with those cells in the body?" "This is licensed work which has been carefully evaluated. This is a process in a dish, and we are dealing with a clump of cells which would never go on to develop. It's a laboratory process and these embryos would never be implanted into anyone.” "We now have preliminary data which looks promising but this is very much work in progress and the next step is to get the embryos to survive to around six days when we can hopefully derive stem cells from them." The research has not yet been published, but the team plans to submit the work for peer review in the coming months. Other scientists welcomed the work but also urged caution in interpreting the results. Colin Blakemore, a former head of the Medical Research Council, said: "The creation of hybrid embryos is not illegal and researchers in Newcastle and London were granted provisional licences for such research in January, after extensive consultation by the HFEA ... This research is at a very early stage and no results have been peer-reviewed or published.” "However, these preliminary reports give hope that this approach is likely to provide stem cells for research without the use of human eggs or normal human embryos. The new bill is intended to confirm the arrangements for regulation of this important area of research."

See more:

Scientists create Britain's first hybrid embryos Independent, UK - April 2 2008 British scientists create human hybrid Guardian, UK - April 2 2008 Embryo breakthrough ITN, UK - April 2 2008 British team makes mixed human animal embryos Times Online, UK - April 2 2008 Hybrid embryos made by UK scientists Telegraph, United Kingdom - April 1 2008 UK's first hybrid embryos created BBC News, UK - April 1 2008 ......... ZenMaster

For more on stem cells and cloning, go to CellNEWS at

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