Page URL:

Stem cell researchers want to use rabbit eggs

13 January 2006
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 341

UK researchers are seeking permission to use rabbit eggs to create human stem cell for studying motor neurone disease. Professor Chris Shaw, of the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and Professor Ian Wilmut, who led the Edinburgh University team that created Dolly the sheep, are discussing their planned experiments with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Although the scientists will need a licence to carry out the research, it falls within a 'grey area' of legislation, according to Professor Alison Murdoch, who leads the stem cell team based at Newcastle University.

Shaw and Wilmut already have a licence to create human embryos using nuclear transfer, or 'cloning' technology. They want to develop embryonic stem cell (EScell) lines genetically matched to patients with motor neurone disease (MND), in order to understand how the condition develops. However, the work has been delayed because of a shortage of human eggs, so the scientists now hope to use rabbit eggs to overcome this problem. According to Professor Shaw, 'if we wait for human eggs, it's going to be maybe a decade before we can do this', whereas using animal eggs could cut this timescale to 'one or two years'.

Last year, the scientists were reportedly planning to ask the HFEA for permission to ask women to donate eggs specifically for research, rather than using eggs left over from fertility treatments. However, Professor Shaw says that in the wake of the revelations about faked stem cell experiments carried out by South Korean researcher Woo Suk Hwang, there is an increased need to get eggs from an alternative source. 'People's response to this scandal may be to decide not to engage with the research', he told the Daily Mail. He also said that 'cell lines generated with rabbit eggs may be just as informative as those cloned from patients. If we can derive even just five, we will have a powerful tool for studying motor neurone disease'.

The researchers plan to remove the genetic material from a skin cell taken from a patient with MND, and place it into a rabbit egg that has had its own genetic material removed. A similar approach has already been successfully used by a team based at the Shanghai Second Medical University in China. In 2003, they reported fusing human cells with 'empty' rabbit eggs to create more than 400 fusion embryos, 100 of which survived to the blastocyst stage - from which they obtained a few ES cell lines. Such cell lines could not be used for treating humans, but could be used to carry out basic research.

Professor Murdoch said the proposal exposed a 'grey area' of the law, and asked 'if you take a human nucleus and put it in a rabbit egg, is it a human embryo?' According to Chris O'Toole, head of research regulation at the HFEA, the issue of mixing human and animal material is 'complex and not thoroughly and explicitly dealt with under the current legislation'. However, under UK law, any research involving human embryos must be shown to be 'necessary and desirable', and any embryo created cannot be allowed to develop for longer than 14 days or be implanted in a woman.

Animal eggs 'to grow stem cells'
BBC News Online |  12 January 2006
Scientists set to create human-rabbit hybrid
The Scotsman |  13 January 2006
Stem cell experts seek rabbit-human embryo
The Guardian |  13 January 2006
Stem cell researchers plan to create rabbit-human embryos
The Daily Telegraph |  13 January 2006
9 October 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
British scientists from three separate research centres have announced their intention to submit simultaneous proposals to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) later this month seeking a licence to create human-animal chimeras. The researchers - based in London, Newcastle and Edinburgh - are seeking approval to carry out...
31 July 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
A controversial scheme to extend the practise of 'egg sharing' has been approved by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to provide greater numbers of eggs for embryonic stem (ES) cell research. The practise of egg-sharing is currently allowed where a woman may receive discounted...
15 May 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
At its open meeting held on 10 May in Belfast, the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) announced that it will 'prepare a proper consultation programme' on oocyte (egg) donation so that it could assess the whole range of views and ethical issues that the...
17 February 2006 - by BioNews 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology and Authority (HFEA), which regulates fertility treatment and embryo research in the UK, is considering allowing altruistic egg donation for therapeutic cloning research. According to a report in the Times newspaper, the authority may soon approve new rules that will allow women to donate eggs...
28 July 2005 - by BioNews 
Professor Ian Wilmut, the pioneering creator of Dolly the sheep, is seeking permission from the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to ask women to donate eggs for cloning experiments in his work on motor neurone disease. Professor Wilmut, who was granted a cloning licence by the HFEA in...
9 February 2005 - by BioNews 
The scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep has been given permission to use the same technique to clone human embryos for medical research into stem cells. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has granted a licence to the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh to use the cell nucleus replacement (CNR...
3 February 2005 - by BioNews 
US researchers have managed to grow motor neurons, using human embryonic stem (ES) cells, in the laboratory for the first time. The scientists, based at the University of Wisconsin, say their achievement could help research into motor neurone disease. It may eventually be possible to treat the condition using transplants...
14 August 2003 - by BioNews 
Researchers in China have 'reprogrammed' human cells by fusing them with rabbit eggs emptied of their own genetic material, and have also managed to isolate stem cells from the resulting embryos, reported last week's Nature. The team, based at the Shanghai Second Medical University, think that the stem cells derived...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.