Cloning: a giant step

For the first time, scientists have created dozens of cloned embryos from adult primates. But what are the implications of this technical breakthrough for the future of mankind?

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Published: 12 November 2007

A technical breakthrough has enabled scientists to create for the first time dozens of cloned embryos from adult monkeys, raising the prospect of the same procedure being used to make cloned human embryos.

Attempts to clone human embryos for research have been dogged by technical problems and controversies over fraudulent research and questionable ethics. But the new technique promises to revolutionise the efficiency by which scientists can turn human eggs into cloned embryos.

It is the first time that scientists have been able to create viable cloned embryos from an adult primate – in this case a 10-year-old male rhesus macaque monkey – and they are scheduled to report their findings later this month.

The scientists will also demonstrate that they have been able to extract stem cells from some of the cloned embryos and that they have managed to encourage these embryonic cells to develop in the laboratory into mature heart cells and brain neurons.

Scientists who know of the research said it was the breakthrough that they had all been waiting for because, until now, there was a growing feeling that there might be some insuperable barrier to creating cloned embryos from adult primates – including humans.

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Stop embryonic cell research, Pope urges

Thu Oct 11, 2007 9:40am EDT

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict appealed to scientists on Thursday to stop using human embryos in stem cell research, saying it violated the dignity of human life.

The Vatican supports stem cell research so long as it does not harm embryos, which the Catholic Church argues are humans from the moment of conception.

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UK: Human-animal embryo study wins approval

Mixing cells and eggs to be allowed in search for new medical treatments

  • The Guardian
  • Tuesday September 4 2007

Plans to allow British scientists to create human-animal embryos are expected to be approved tomorrow by the government's fertility regulator. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority published its long-awaited public consultation on the controversial research yesterday, revealing that a majority of people were "at ease" with scientists creating the hybrid embryos.

Researchers want to create hybrid embryos by merging human cells with animal eggs, in the hope they will be able to extract valuable embryonic stem cells from them. The cells form the basic building blocks of the body and are expected to pave the way for revolutionary therapies for diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even spinal cord injuries.

The consultation papers were released ahead of the authority's final decision on the matter, which will mark the end of almost a year of intense lobbying by scientists and a fervent campaign by organisations opposed to research involving embryonic stem cells.

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Now scientists create a sheep that's 15% human

By CLAUDIA JOSEPH

Comments

Scientists have created the world's first human-sheep chimera - which has the body of a sheep and half-human organs.

The sheep have 15 per cent human cells and 85 per cent animal cells - and their evolution brings the prospect of animal organs being transplanted into humans one step closer.

Professor Esmail Zanjani, of the University of Nevada, has spent seven years and £5million perfecting the technique, which involves injecting adult human cells into a sheep's foetus.

He has already created a sheep liver which has a large proportion of human cells and eventually hopes to precisely match a sheep to a transplant patient, using their own stem cells to create their own flock of sheep.

The process would involve extracting stem cells from the donor's bone marrow and injecting them into the peritoneum of a sheep's foetus. When the lamb is born, two months later, it would have a liver, heart, lungs and brain that are partly human and available for transplant.

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European patent on stem cells may be a possibility

As long as the research meets the usual requirements for a patent, isolated embryonic stem cells should be considered for both method and product patents.

This conclusion, which runs counter to the views of the European Group on Ethics under the European Commission, was reached by an interdisciplinary group at the Center for Bioethics at the Karolinska Institute and Uppsala University in an academic article in the international journal Stem Cells.

The article is the result of a unique collaborative effort involving ethics researchers Mats G. Hansson and Gert Helgesson at the Center for Bioethics, Richard Wessman at the Department of Law, Uppsala University, and one of the world's leading stem cell researchers, Rudolf Jaenisch at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Our conclusion is that, in principle, stem cells can be patentable and that this is consonant with ethical views that the human embryo should enjoy special protection owing to its capacity to develop into a human being. This will be of interest to a great many people," says Professor Mats G. Hansson.

Research on embryonic and adult stem cells may yield new possibilities for treating and curing diseases. At the same time, it is ethically controversial, especially the use of stem cells from human embryos. The possibility of patenting these cells has been excluded by several instances, including several European patent authorities and the European Commission's European Group on Ethics (EGE). According to the EGE, only genetically altered stem cells or cells that have been further developed into certain bodily parts can be eligible for patents. In several European countries patents for stem cells are out of the question, and the European Patent Organization, like various national patent offices, has a wait-and-see policy.

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Scientists triumph in battle over ban on hybrid embryos

Mark Henderson, Science Editor
From The Times
February 27, 2007

Scientists triumph in battle over ban on hybrid embryosMark Henderson, Science Editor
Plans to outlaw the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for potentially life-saving stem cell research are to be dropped after a revolt by scientists.

The proposed government ban on fusing human DNA with animal eggs, which promises insights into incurable conditions such as Alzheimer’s and motor neuron disease, will be abandoned because of concerns among senior ministers that it will damage British science.

While ministers will not endorse the research in full yet, they are no longer seeking legislation to prohibit it, The Times has learnt. The Government will instead provide the fertility watchdog with funds for a public debate on the subject before new laws are drafted.

Government support for an interim ban had been announced by Caroline Flint, the Public Health Minister, in December, in a White Paper reviewing the fertility laws. It provoked outrage in the scientific community, with researchers describing the proposal as “an affront to patients” that would jeopardise Britain’s position as a world leader in stem cell science.

Last month 45 scientists, ethicists and politicians, including three Nobel prizewinners, wrote to The Times to support the hybrid embryo work. It has been backed by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust, Britain’s two biggest funders of medical science, and by the Human Genetics Commission, which advises ministers on genetic matters.

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'Embryo bank': new hope or too far?

A Texas fertility center's methods raise concerns about 'designing'babies. Some say they're not much different from the usual practice.
By Amanda Paulson | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

In an era when infertile couples often look to test tubes or surrogate mothers to create children, the notion of egg or sperm donors is hardly novel.

Yet a San Antonio woman's idea to bring the two together – creating complete embryos ready to be implanted into the womb – has drawn a raft of criticism, with bioethicists debating whether this is the commodification of children or just another – perhaps more effective – way to help people become parents.

The "embryo bank" at the Abraham Center of Life isn't a storage bank so much as an intermediary that creates embryos from anonymous donors of both sperm and egg, for a waiting list of interested parents.

But the ethical debate around selling such embryos has called attention to the delicate balance between harnessing reproductive technology to help people achieve cherished dreams of bearing children and the danger of selective genetics in the hopes of creating "designer babies." It's also, say some critics, one more example of why more oversight is needed in a field that is advancing rapidly but has had almost no regulation.

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Public debate on hybrid embryos

The public will be asked whether scientists should be allowed to create hybrid human-animal embryos, regulators have announced.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryo Authority says it will not rule on any research applications until a consultation has been completed.

Ministers proposed outlawing such work after unfavourable public opinion.

Two UK teams have put in requests to mix human and animal cells in order to find cures for degenerative diseases.

PM Tony Blair last week said any new law would have "flexibility" to support scientific research that helped people.

There had been a question mark over whether it was within the HFEA's remit to licence such work.

But the HFEA says it should judge the work under the current law.

Angela McNab, chief executive of the HFEA, explained: "These sorts of research would potentially fall with the remit of the HFEA to regulate and licence and would not be prohibited by the legislation.

"There needs to be a full and proper public debate and consultation as to whether, in principle, licences for these sorts of research could be granted."

Controversial

But she said from the evidence considered so far, the issue was "far from black and white".

Scientists say doing the work could provide cures for conditions such as Alzheimer's. But opponents say the research tampers with nature and is unethical.

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The Pillow Angel Case--Three Bioethicists Weigh In

January 05, 2007

The Pillow Angel Case--Three Bioethicists Weigh In

We asked three of the country's most esteemed bioethicists to give their professional opinion--was the "Ashley Treatment" a wise decision?

By Christopher Mims

On January 3 of this year the parents of a girl with static encephalopathy, a disorder that leaves her unable to move and with the cognitive capacity of an infant, announced on a blog that they had been using hormones to stunt the growth of their daughter for medical and quality-of-life reasons. [More details are available via the original news report of the story.] The resulting, and very public, debate--much of it carried out in the comment thread of the original blog--has ranged from support for the parents to accusations of eugenics and worse.

In order to cut through the noise, we asked three bioethicists--doctors not unlike those who, as members of a medical ethics board, authorized the treatment in the first place--to relate their professional opinion of the case.

All three bioethicists came down firmly on the side of the parents and the decision of the original ethics board--but with a few reservations. Their discussion ranged from issues of privacy raised by the media frenzy surrounding this case to the question of whether or not this intervention is a technological fix for a social problem.

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'Embryo Bank' Stirs Ethics Fears

'Embryo Bank' Stirs Ethics Fears
Firm Lets Clients Pick Among Fertilized Eggs

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 6, 2007; Page A01

A Texas company has started producing batches of ready-made embryos that single women and infertile couples can order after reviewing detailed information about the race, education, appearance, personality and other characteristics of the egg and sperm donors.

The Abraham Center of Life LLC of San Antonio, the first commercial dealer making embryos in advance for unspecified recipients, was created to help make it easier and more affordable for clients to have babies that match their preferences, according to its founder.

"We're just trying to help people have babies," said Jennalee Ryan, who arranged for an egg donor to start medical treatments to produce a second batch of embryos this week. "For me, that's what this is all about: helping make babies."

But the embryo brokerage, which calls itself "the world's first human embryo bank," raises alarm among some fertility experts and bioethicists, who say the service marks another disturbing step toward commercialization of human reproduction and "designer babies."

"We're increasingly treating children like commodities," said Mark A. Rothstein, a bioethicist at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. "It's like you're ordering a computer from Dell: You give them the specs, and they put it in the mail. I don't think we should consider mail-order computers and other products the same way we consider children."

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