Hybrid embryos made by UK scientists
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
Last Updated: 7:30pm BST 01/04/2008
Page 1 of 3
The first hybrid embryos in Europe - a blend of human and cow DNA - have been created by scientists in Newcastle.
"¢ What are hybrid embryos?
"¢ Hybrid embryos: FAQs - Newcastle University
The hybrid embryos, which only developed for three days, were created by Dr Lyle Armstrong and colleagues at Newcastle University as part of basic research on cloning and not as part of any attempt to create a hybrid animal, which is not only illegal but thought highly unlikely for technical reasons.
The Newcastle team emphasises this is "work in progress" and will be submitted for peer review.
The milestone, which is political rather than scientific, will trigger a furore, since the advance comes a month before MPs are to debate the future of such research, which has been condemned by the Catholic Church as "monstrous".
Pro life campaigner Josephine Quintavalle comments: 'This is lamentable headline grabbing not proper scientific behaviour. It does Newcastle University no credit whatsoever. The most significant line in the report is that the animal-human embryos didn't survive.'
The move to create hybrid embryos with animal eggs - cow eggs in this case - has been driven by a shortage of human eggs, which are necessary for efforts to use the Dolly cloning method to first create human embryos and then dismantle them for their stem cells, which doctors, scientists and patient groups say are vital for scientific understanding of debilitating conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
A British Council meeting in Israel was told by Dr Armstrong that the hybrids were created by injecting DNA derived from human embryo cells into eggs taken from cows ovaries which have had DNA responsible for their characteristics removed, so called nuclear DNA, and leaving only cow DNA used to power the cells.
"We are dealing with a clump of cells which would never go on to develop beyond 14 days," says Prof John Burn, a spokesman for Newcastle University, adding there is no intention to put the hybrids into a surrogate mother.
Nor are the hybrids "yet progressing to the state where they are capable of creating stem cells."
The research was approved by the fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.
The purpose of the experiments is to study the way the use of genes alters early in development, so the primary aim of research is basic understanding, not generating stem cells, said Prof Burn.
Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP who led the campaign to ensure that the research was not banned by Parliament, said: "This news is interesting and even exciting but impossible to assess until it has been published and peer reviewed in the usual way."
"Creating these sort of cytoplasmic hybrid embryos was deemed legal and legitimate under the 1990 HFEA Act and the 2001 Therapeutic Cloning Regulations by both the HFEA and by the Science Select Committee, and was approved on that basis by the HFEA after a public consultation and after approval by a further unanimous select committee report.
"Therefore it is wrong to say that this is pre-empting parliamentary debate or votes............