November 10, 2009

Study To Focus On Mixing Human And Animal DNA

Britain's Academy of Medical Sciences launched a study Tuesday to consider how human DNA is used in animal experiments and to determine what the boundaries of such controversial science might be, The Associated Press reported.

Scientists at the Academy of Medical Sciences want to make sure the public is aware of what is happening in laboratories during experiments that involve swapping human and animal DNA.

For some time researchers have been replacing animal genes with human genes or growing human organs in animals.

Robin Lovell-Badge, a stem cell expert at Britain's National Institute for Medical Research, and a member of the group conducting the study, said animal and human DNA experiments might seem strange to some, but they may be well worth doing if it's going to lead to a cure for something horrible.

Lovell-Badge explained the two main types of experiments: altering an animal's genes by adding human DNA or replacing a specific animal sequence with its human counterpart.

Human genes were added to a mouse several years ago to create a model of Down's syndrome for scientists to study how the disease evolves, which could lead to potential treatments.

Scientists have even grown human organs in animals that could one day be transplanted back into humans. For instance, researchers grew a human ear on a lab mouse's back.

Lovell-Badge said there are good reasons for doing this, but it may upset some people.

Controversy erupted a couple of years ago in Britain after scientists announced plans to create human embryos using empty cow and rabbit eggs. Scientists said the embryos would be destroyed after 14 days and would only be used to help them learn how to create human stem cells.

Still, critics condemned the mixing of human and animal genetic material.

Meanwhile, the regulation on how much human DNA can be put into an animal is vague and scientists are now trying to determine where the line should be drawn on experiments that use human material in animals.

Martin Bobrow, chairman of the group conducting the study, said they are trying to work out what is reasonable. He and others said they recognized people might be nervous about experiments where animals were given human features or brain cells.

However, some experts, like David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, an independent watchdog, are not convinced such experiments are warranted.

"This is a classic example of science going too fast. If you cannot firmly say exactly what it is you're creating, you should not do it," he said.

"Do these constructs challenge our idea of what it is to be human?" said Bobrow, a professor of medical genetics at Cambridge University.

"It is important that we consider these questions now so that appropriate boundaries are recognized and research is able to fulfill its potential."


Image 2: The photo of the mouse was passed around the internet in 1998, mainly via email, sometimes with little to no text accompanying it, leading many people to speculate whether the photo was real.


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