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UK team creates human hybrid embryos

7 April 2008
Appeared in BioNews 452

Scientists based at the University of Newcastle have announced the successful creation of human hybrid embryos, made by inserting human genetic material into 'hollowed out' cow eggs. Team leader Lyle Armstrong presented the preliminary data at a conference in Israel. The team hopes that such embryos will eventually be a useful source of embryonic stem cells (ES cells) for research into new therapies for conditions such as Parkinson's disease and stroke.

In January, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) granted two one-year licenses permitting scientists at Kings College London and Newcastle University to create human hybrid (also called human 'admixed') embryos. Both teams aim to use enucleated animal eggs - those from which the nucleus, containing the vast majority of an egg's DNA, has been removed. Genetic material from human patients can be added to these empty eggs, and the resulting embryos used to create ES cells that are virtually human. Currently, scientists studying ES cells have to use human eggs left over from fertility treatment for their research, but these are in short supply and vary in quality.

The hybrid embryos created by the Newcastle team survived for three days, which was not long enough to extract stem cells from them, so much more work remains to be done. Professor John Burn, Head of the Institute of Human Genetics at Newcastle University, said: 'If the team can produce cells which will survive in culture it will open the door to a better understanding of disease processes without having to use precious human eggs. Cells grown using animal eggs cannot be used to treat patients on safety grounds but they will help bring nearer the day when new stem cell therapies are available'.

A survey commissioned by the Catholic Church has found that 67 per cent of the 1,000 people questioned were against plans to create human hybrid embryos. The findings also showed that just over half (51 per cent) strongly opposed the research. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland, said: 'I am delighted to see that the overwhelming majority of people, like me, are completely opposed to the creation of animal-human hybrids'.

However, the results contradict those from the HFEA's public consultation on hybrid embryos, carried out last year before the authority agreed to license the research. It found that 61 per cent of around 2000 respondents agreed with the use of hybrid embryos for the creation of ES cells, if it might improve understanding of diseases, while a quarter opposed it.

Newcastle University |  1 April 2008
Two out of three people 'are against the creation of hybrid embryos'
The Evening Standard |  7 April 2008
UK's first hybrid embryos created
BBC News Online |  1 April 2008
We have created human-animal embryos already, say British team
The Times |  2 April 2008
11 January 2010 - by Gozde Zorlu 
A leading UK geneticist has received a knighthood in the New Year's Honours list for services to medicine. Professor John Burn, director of the Institute of Human Genetics, helped to establish the International Centre for Life in Newcastle.Last July, researchers at the Centre for Life grew human sperm from stem cells and created the first human-animal hybrid embryos in 2008....
12 October 2009 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The UK's Independent newspaper has claimed that all research involving 'hybrid' embryos has been refused financial backing from the UK's research councils and has warned that scientists are taking their research abroad...
28 November 2008 - by Dr Megan Allyse 
Two independent pressure groups are claiming that licenses allowing research into the creation of human admixed embryos are unlawful and that research should be halted immediately. A UK High Court judge heard arguments in London last Wednesday on whether or not to initiate judicial review of the...
7 July 2008 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
Two announcements made last week have important implications for the future progress of human stem cell research in the UK. Both were related to research involving 'therapeutic cloning' - the creation of stem cell lines from patients with incurable diseases (such as Alzheimer's and cardiomyopathy) in order to...
23 June 2008 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
The creation of human/animal admixed or 'hybrid' embryos is happening at a rapid rate, according to the experts developing them at Newcastle University, who say that the process is easier than they initially thought. Speaking at the BIO biotechnology conference in San Diego last week, Dr...
31 March 2008 - by MacKenna Roberts 
The head of Scotland's Catholic Church, Cardinal Keith O'Brien - who in his Easter Sunday sermon attacked the government's proposal to allow research using inter-species or human 'admixed' embryos, calling it 'government supported experiments of Frankenstein proportions' - said he would be 'only too happy' to attend a meeting...
21 January 2008 - by Katy Sinclair 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) License Committee has granted two one-year licenses permitting scientists at Kings College London and Newcastle University to carry out research using human-animal embryos. Over the past 12 months the HFEA has been deliberating on whether the creation of embryos using...
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