Scientists seek permission for human-cow embryos

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The Independent Online

Scientists in Britain have asked for permission to create "hybrid" embryos from animal eggs and human cells for medical research into some of the most intractable diseases.

The aim is to create a cloned embryo by fusing a nucleus from a human skin cell with a cow's egg that has had its own cell nucleus removed.

Genetically, the embryo would be 99.9 per cent human and 0.1 per cent cow which would, in effect, make it a human embryo and therefore subject to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

Two teams of researchers at Newcastle University and King's College London yesterday submitted a joint application for a research licence to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, the body which polices the Act.

Scientists want to clone animal-human hybrids because of a shortage of human eggs for stem cell research. They intend to extract embryonic stem cells from the hybrid embryos, which will not be allowed to develop beyond 14 days.

Any stem cells that are created from the technique will not be used on patients but will instead be used in basic scientific experiments, such as testing new drugs for treating conditions such as Parkinson's or heart disease.

One of the aims of the British research is to create embryonic stem cells specifically from people suffering from an incurable disease so that the genetics and biology of the condition can be studied in more detail.

Scientists in other parts of the world, notably the United States and China, have in the past claimed to have produced animal-human hybrids from cow or rabbit eggs but it would be the first time the cloning had been attempted in Britain.