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scientists react to news of application to transfer human nuclei into animal eggs

Today groups in Newcastle and London will be submitting a joint application to carry out stem cell work using animal eggs. The groups hope to transfer human nuclei into host animal eggs using nuclear transfer/therapeutic cloning.

Dr Stephen Minger, Director of the Stem Cell Biology Laboratory at Kings College London, said:

“Our research team at King’s College London is optimistic that the HFEA will rule favourably on our licence application. We feel that the development of disease-specific human embryonic stem cell lines from individuals suffering from genetic forms of neurodegenerative disorders will stimulate both basic research and the development of new treatments for these devastating brain diseases. Although the development of nuclear transfer has the potential to generate cell lines from specific individuals, we are concerned that the current state of the technology means that hundreds of eggs from young women will be required to generate a single human embryonic stem cell line. Therefore we consider it more appropriate to use non-human eggs from livestock as a surrogate to generate these disease-specific cell lines until the efficiency of this procedure is improved.”

Dr Lyle Armstrong, North East England Stem Cell Institute, said:

“We are very hopeful that the HFEA will grant us permission for this work, which will help us to understand more about how cells behave after the nuclear transfer process. We need this information to enable us to take this area of stem cell research to the next stage.

“At the moment we don’t know if the nuclear transfer process works well enough in humans to create useful embryonic stem cells. We need to carry out many tests to establish this and, as animal eggs are freely available, it makes sense to use these as a source of material for our laboratory work.

“Stem cell research promises huge potential medical advantages and we believe we will be working towards our ultimate goal of developing new patient therapies.”

Dr Wolf Reik, Head of Developmental Genetics Programme, Babraham Institute, said:

“This is an important step forward in trying to understand how a cell from the human body can be reprogrammed so that it functions as a stem cell. To achieve this kind of reprogramming will be a key step for regenerative medicine. Using animal eggs instead of human ones is a sensible and practical approach which will accelerate progress.”

Professor Chris Shaw, Professor of Neurology and Neurogenetics, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, said:

“The cloning of disease-linked human embryonic stem cell lines has huge potential to help us understand disease processes and discover new treatments. We must remember however that Hwang failed to generate a stem cell line following nuclear transfer (cloning) of 2,000 fresh human eggs. We believe that a great deal of progress can be achieved using animal eggs and that this is an essential strategy to pursue in parallel to the human egg work.”

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, Head of Developmental Genetics, National Institute for Medical Research, said:

“This is a very rational step: to learn what you can using animal eggs, which are readily obtainable, before moving on to valuable human eggs when or if this becomes necessary. There is good evidence that the approach can work, from a published study using rabbit eggs that led to the derivation of embryonic stem cell lines that were essentially human. Moreover, it will provide valuable information, not only how to reprogramme human cells from patients in ways that may be useful for therapies, but also about the nature of diseases, for example those with a genetic cause that begin to develop within the embryo, which can not be studied in other ways.”

Professor Azim Surani, Marshall-Walton Professor Of Physiology And Reproduction, Cambridge University, said:

“During evolution of the species, many insurmountable barriers have emerged which will prevent hybrid embryos from developing very far. It remains to be seen if the proposed research will provide useful information on the mechanism of somatic nuclear reprogramming. If so, it may add to the objectives of the leading research in the field, which is to re-programme somatic cells without the use of any kind of egg at all.”

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