Research groups at London Edinburgh and Newcastle (England), will soon submit applications to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to create embryos that are a hybrid between animal (either rabbit or cow) and human…
The licences will allow scientists to remove the nuclei from animal eggs and replace them with human cells, leading to embryos containing the complete set of human genes, plus dozens of animal genes that sit inside tiny energy-making structures called mitochondria.
Two of the groups, led by Stephen Minger at King’s College, London, and Ian Wilmut, the Edinburgh University scientist whose team created Dolly the Sheep, plan to use the embryos to create stem cells that carry the genetic defects responsible for neurological conditions such as motor neurone disease. By converting the stem cells into neurons, the scientists will be able to unravel how the disease destroys nerves and identify drugs to stop or reverse the damage.
The Newcastle group, which is awaiting ethical approval for its application, hopes to insert skin cells into animal eggs to study how eggs can “reprogramme” adult tissues into more primitive cells. The answers could ultimately let scientists take skin cells from a patient and convert them into other tissue types such as kidney cells for transplanting without fear of immune rejection.
One could imagine such attempts could ruffle some feathers on our side of the pond, what with President Bush referring to human-animal hybrids as a most “egregious abuse” of scientific research.
More from the Guardian