Friday, 18 January 2008

UK HFEA Approves Human-Animal Hybrid Embryo Research

UK HFEA Approves Human-Animal Hybrid Embryo Research Friday, 18 January 2008 The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) yesterday granted permission to two groups of scientists to create human-animal embryos for research. Two centres, King's College London and Newcastle University, will now be able to begin their work under one-year research licences. Scientists from the two centres submitted applications last year to create human stem cells using animal eggs. The process involves injecting an empty cow or rabbit egg with human DNA. A burst of electricity is then used to trick the egg into dividing, so that it becomes a very early embryo from which stem cells can be extracted. "The HFEA License Committee determined that the two applications satisfied all the requirements of the law," the agency said. Scientists want to create hybrid embryos by merging human cells with animal eggs in a bid to extract stem cells. The embryos would then be destroyed within 14 days. At the moment, scientists in the UK have to rely on human eggs left over from fertility treatment, but they are in short supply and are not always good quality. Dr Stephen Minger and colleagues at King's College London want to create hybrids to study diseases known to have genetic causes — such as Alzheimer's disease, spinal muscular atrophy and Parkinson's disease. Dr. Lyle Armstrong's team at The Northeast England Stem Cell Institute, Newcastle University, are planning to use the technique to help understand how stem cells differentiate into different tissues in the body. Dr Armstrong said: "Now that we have the licence we can start work as soon as possible.” "We have already done a lot of the work by transferring animal cells into cow eggs so we hope to make rapid progress." "Finding better ways to make human embryonic stem cells is the long-term objective of our work and understanding reprogramming is central to this." "Cow eggs seem to be every bit as good at doing this job as human eggs so it makes sense to use them since they are much more readily available but it is important to stress that we will only use them as a scientific tool and we need not worry about cells derived from them ever being used to treat human diseases." Professor Sir John Gurdon, a Cambridge University researcher who has injected human DNA into frogs' eggs, said: "Scientifically... I'm not persuaded it will work. If you put cells from one species into the egg of another, the egg may divide, but you could get a lot of genetic abnormality that won't lead to good-quality stem cells." Links: HFEA Kings College London Newcastle University ......... ZenMaster

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

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