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British Scientists Announce First Animal-Human Hybrid Embryos

Scientists at Newcastle University in the UK have announced the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos intended to provide stem cells for research. From the Guardian:

Britain’s first human-animal hybrid embryos have been created, forming a crucial first step, scientists believe, towards a supply of stem cells that could be used to investigate debilitating and so far untreatable conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease.

Lyle Armstrong, who led the work, gained permission in January from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to create the embryos, known as “cytoplasmic hybrids”.

His team at Newcastle University produced the embryos by inserting human DNA from a skin cell into a hollowed-out cow egg. An electric shock then induced the hybrid embryo to grow. The embryo, 99.9% human and 0.1% other animal, grew for three days, until it had 32 cells.

Eventually, scientists hope to grow such embryos for six days, and then extract stem cells from them. The researchers insisted the embryos would never be implanted into a woman and that the only reason they used cow eggs was due to the scarcity of human eggs.

The results are preliminary, and the research has not yet been submitted for peer review. But the announcement comes just a month before the House of Commons is set to debate legislation that would specifically allow creation of such hybrids for biomedical research, reports the BBC.

Creation of hybrid, or “chimeric,” organisms has also raised controversy in the United States. Science Progress assessed the British debate over the technology last year, along with research involving hybrid mice used by U.S. scientists in drug development and immune system research. The intersection of embryonic stem cell and hybrid research could renew bioethical debates on this side of the pond, as Jonathan Moreno pointed out after the November announcement of induced pluripotent stem cells.

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