April 1, 2008

Animal-Human Hybrids Created in the UK

One month before the beginning of what is sure to be a lively debate among Members of Parliament, scientists at Newcastle University have reportedly created the first human-animal hybrid.

Scientists injected DNA from human skin cells into eggs taken from cows' ovaries. They said they use cow ovaries because human eggs are in short supply.

Under the microscope, the cells look like regular three-day-old embryos, but scientists hope they will shed new light on treatments for conditions such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

Professor John Burn from Newcastle University says the research is entirely ethical.

"This is licensed work which has been carefully evaluated," said Burn. "This is a process in a dish, and we are dealing with a clump of cells which would never go on to develop. It's a laboratory process and these embryos would never be implanted into anyone."

"We now have preliminary data which looks promising but this is very much work in progress and the next step is to get the embryos to survive to around six days when we can hopefully derive stem cells from them."

Research was approved by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority on the eve of a House of Commons debate that will determine whether or not to allow the creation of hybrid embryos.

News of the embryos was with mixed reactions. Members of the Roman Catholic Church refer to them as "experiments of Frankenstein proportion".

"It is difficult to imagine a single piece of legislation which more comprehensively attacks the sanctity and dignity of human life than this particular bill," Cardinal Keith O'Brien, archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh said.

The controversy has grown so large that Prime Minister Gordon Brown surrendered to demands for a free vote on the issue next month.


On the Net:

Newcastle University

Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority