April 2, 2008

Cow-Human Hybrid Survives for Three Days

Crossing human eggs with cow eggs to produce an embryo may be well-intentioned according to the scientific community, but those in opposition view the concept as monstrous.

In England, at Newcastle University, a team has grown hybrid human-cow embryos for the first time in order to provide research tools for stem-cell based solutions. The embryos were produced after human DNA was injected into eggs from cows' ovaries.

These embryos lasted three days prior to dying. According to Dr. Teija Peura, director of human embryonic stem cell laboratories at the Australian Stem Cell Centre, these "99 percent human" embryos could boost research and help develop therapies for Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and spinal cord injuries that human or animal embryos alone could not.

This method of embryo creation, somatic cell nuclear transfer (or SCNT) has previously been done between animal species, but this attempt is different. Dr. Peura stated, "If successful, they would provide an important additional research tool to help realization of stem cell-based therapies for human diseases." According to her encouraging all avenues of research including SCNT is incredibly important, especially "if we want to fulfill the promises of stem cell technologies."

This is not the first time hybrid embryos have been produced. Dr. Hui Zhen Sheng of the Shanghai Second Medical University previously fused rabbit eggs with human cells to produce embryos which eventually yielded stem cells.

Peura's colleague, Dr. Andrew Laslett warned that the cow/human bond had not yet produced stem cells; it was only an academic possibility.

Embryos are not allowed to be developed past two weeks according to a license given to Newcastle University by the Fertilization and Embryology Authority. Next month, the British Parliament will debate the long-term future of similar embryonic research.

Until further debate and legislation occurs, the debate about the embryos will continue. Professor John Burn, head of the Institute of Human Genetics at the university said in defense of the process, "If the team can produce cells which will survive in culture, it will open the door to a better understanding of disease processes without having to use precious human eggs." He continued by stating that these eggs may not be used to treat patients due to safety issues, but they may further the development of new stem cell therapies, regardless.

Kevin McGovern, the director of the Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics supports the way that Britain's Catholics view the creations. He too thinks the practice is "monstrous". He said, "An "An almost-human embryo is being created and then it's being destroyed," he said. "I cannot see that that respects human life or the dignity of human life."

McGovern goes on to claim that almost human embryos are the equivalent of human beings, and these are things that shouldn't be used in a lab experiment. He is correct in stating that the possibilities are endless and no one can predict what might grow from these embryos. He said, "What is being created is life." He voices some concerns, similar to those that others in opposition have voiced, stating, "If this is approved in the UK, there will be renewed pressure to permit it here, and we will travel further down the slippery slope of allowing just about anything."


On the Net:

Newcastle University

"Animal-Human Hybrids Created in the UK"

Australian Stem Cell Centre

"Rabbit Eggs Used to Grow Human Stem Cells"

Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority