Stem Cell :: Plan to create human-cow embryos

Scientists from King’s submitted a licence application yesterday (6 November) to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to allow them to fuse human cells with animal eggs. If granted, the licence will boost research into some of the most debilitating and untreatable neurological diseases.

Dr Stephen Minger, Director of the King’s Stem Cell Biology Laboratory, submitted the application to the HFEA with his King’s colleagues, Professor Chris Shaw of the Institute of Psychiatry and Professor Clive Ballard of the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases.

The team plan to derive human embryonic stem cells using adult cells from patients with genetic forms of neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Instead of using human eggs, the researchers will remove the nuclei from animal eggs and replace them with cells from the patients, thus creating cloned stem cell lines that contain the same genetic mutation that results in these neurological disorders.

Scientists currently use human eggs that have failed to fertilise in IVF procedures for this technique, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). However, the efficiency of SCNT is currently very low and therefore creating early-stage ?chimeric’ embryos will allow researchers to improve the technique without using human eggs.

Dr Stephen Minger said, ?Once the nucleus of the animal egg is removed it essentially no longer has a species identity and when replaced with a human nucleus, the resulting embryo and cell line will have human genetic identity. But I will stress that the cell lines derived by SCNT will only be used for biological and pharmacological research, not for therapeutic purposes.’

Collaborative work

The King’s scientists hope to collaborate in this research with colleagues in Shanghai who have pioneered the use of non-human eggs for SCNT to create human embryonic stem cell lines. They submitted their application at the same time as a team from Newcastle University, led by Dr Lyle Armstrong of the North East England Stem Cell Institute. Professor Ian Wilmut of the University of Edinburgh will seek permission for similar research at a later date.

Dr Minger added, ?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 devastating brain diseases.’

Professor Chris Shaw commented, ?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 ? or 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.’

The HFEA is currently undergoing a consultation process to determine whether women should be allowed to donate eggs specifically for research purposes. A decision from the HFEA on King’s licence application is not expected until early next year after the consultation period has come to an end.

King’s College London
King’s College London is the fourth oldest university in England with more than 13,700 undergraduates and nearly 5,600 graduate students in nine schools of study based at five London campuses. It is a member of the Russell Group: a coalition of the UK’s major research-based universities. The College has had 24 of its subject-areas awarded the highest rating of 5* and 5 for research quality, demonstrating excellence at an international level, and it has recently received an excellent result in its audit by the Quality Assurance Agency.

King’s has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, international relations, medicine, nursing and the sciences, and has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe and is home to four Medical Research Council Centres ? more than any other university.

King’s is in the top group of UK universities for research earnings, with income from grants and contracts of more than ?100 million, and has an annual turnover of more than ?363 million.

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