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UK scientists ask for licence to create human-cow embryo

13 November 2006

By Stuart Scott

Appeared in BioNews 384

Two teams of British scientists have applied for licences to create hybrid embryos from human and animal cells in order to create stem cells. The North East England Stem Cell Institute - a biotech research body run by the Universities of Durham and Newcastle - and the Stem Cell Laboratory based at Kings' College London have applied for three-year licences from the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

If granted, the licences would permit the teams to transfer human DNA into the oocytes of cows that have, in turn, had their nuclei removed. From this, embryos could be created that were 99.9 per cent human; the mitochondrial DNA being the only reproducible bovine remnant. The putative embryos would then be allowed to develop for six days, at which point pluripotent stem cells could be harvested. The licence would state - according to the law - that the nascent embryo must then be destroyed prior to 14 days gestation.

Stem cells are without peer in terms of therapeutic potential across medicine, with neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's thought to hold the most imminent chance of a successful treatment. But their development has been slower than envisaged. The primary problem is that the human eggs required for the production of stem cells are in short supply and require an invasive operation to collect them. Kings' College lead researcher Dr Stephen Minger said that 'we are concerned that the current state of technology means that hundreds of eggs from young women are required to generate a single human embryonic stem cell line'. He added: 'Therefore we consider it more appropriate to use non-human eggs from live stock as a surrogate to generate these disease specific cell lines until the efficiency of the procedure is improved'.

The eventual aim of this field of research is to produce new tissue to replace defective tissue - from any organ - that is an exact genetic match for the patient: a form of personalised medicine. The hybrid stem cells would create a much wider pool of cells for scientists to work with and expedite their research. Researchers could perform a wide array of tests on the inexpensive and readily available hybrid cells before moving on to confirm their findings in the more expensive human eggs.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 currently outlaws mixing human and animal eggs and sperm, but the legislation does not regulate nuclear transfer between human and animal cells. 'Part of the reason we are doing this is to get some sort of legal classification', said Dr Minger. A peer-reviewed panel of experts appointed by the HFEA are expected to take several months to make a decision on the licence application.

Reuters | 06 November 2006
BBC News Online | 07 November 2006
The Daily Telegraph | 08 November 2006
UK scientists ask permission to create human-cow hybrid
New Scientist | 07 November 2006


19 June 2007 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The UK's Academy of Medical Sciences has backed the creation of human-animal embryos for use in stem cell research, which is says should be subject to the same rules as research on human embryos, including the 14-day rule and a ban on implanting embryos into a...
21 May 2007 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The UK Government has published a draft version of the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. The proposals will amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. As it stands, the Bill will ban the creation of embryos that contain genetic material from both animals...
10 April 2007 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has challenged the UK Government's decision to propose a ban on the creation of hybrid or chimera embryos, calling such a move 'unnecessary'. In the report, the MPs said: 'We find that the creation of human-animal chimera or hybrid...
10 April 2007 - by Dr John Gillott 
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's report, 'Government Proposals for the Regulation of Hybrid and Chimera Embryos', is its response to two related events: firstly the UK Government's intention to outlaw the creation of such entities, announced in December 2006 in its White Paper (1), and secondly the...
05 March 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The UK Government's chief scientific adviser has expressed his support for proposals to use animal eggs in the creation of human embryonic stem (ES) cells for research purposes. Sir David King said last week that such work should be allowed under tight regulations, adding that it...

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