Scientists in Britain have applied for a license to create hybrid embryos using human cells and animal eggs for stem cell research to develop new treatments for diseases such as Parkinson’s, stroke and Alzheimer’s.
The researchers from Kings College London and the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) submitted the application to the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), a regulatory body that oversees embryo research and fertility treatment.
If the application is approved, the hybrid embryo will be 99.9 percent human and 0.1 percent animal. By using animal eggs, the scientists hope to overcome the shortage of human eggs left over from IVF treatments, which have been used for stem cell research.
“Our research team at King’s College London is optimistic that the HFEA will rule favorably on our license application,” said Dr Stephen Minger, director of the Stem Cell Biology Laboratory at Kings College.
“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.”
The HFEA said on Monday it had not received the application yet. It will be peer-reviewed by a panel of experts. A decision could take several months.
“The government’s consultation on fertility laws shows there is a strong current of public concern on this,” a spokesman for the HFEA told Reuters.
Other scientists welcomed the application, saying it was a rational next step in stem cell research.
“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,” said Dr Wolf Reik of the Babraham Institute in England.
The scientists said they intend to initially use cow eggs in the research, which will attempt to grow new tissue genetically matched to patients from stem cells.
They will use nuclear transfer, the technique used to create Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal. The nucleus of the animal egg will be removed and fused with the nucleus from a human cell. The egg will develop until it is a cluster of cells, or blastocyst.
After six days, the scientists will remove the stem cells, which can develop into any cell type or tissue. The early embryo will be destroyed before it is 14 days old in accordance with the license.
“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,” said Dr Lyle Armstrong of NESCI.