Saturday, January 14, 2006

Clone team want to grow human cells in rabbit eggs

British scientists want to create embryos by combining rabbit eggs with human DNA, it has emerged.

They hope the controversial move will boost stem cell research into incurable diseases by giving them a plentiful supply of eggs on which to hone their skills.

The scientists claim the development is needed as current human egg shortages are likely to worsen following a recent cloning scandal in which Korean research was exposed as fake.

However, ethical campaigners last night called the idea "repugnant" and "very disturbing".

A team led by Professor Ian Wilmut - the pioneer behind Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell - is currently trying to use stem cells from embryos to learn more about the triggers for motor neurone disease.

Stem cells are building blocks that can turn into any part of the body. The team plans to turn them into nerve tissue, so scientists can then study how disease develops in the laboratory.

Until now Professor Wilmut, of Edinburgh University, and his team have been relying on donations of human eggs to try to harvest the stem cells.

However, they cannot get enough as the procedure is not without risks to women.

They are now in discussion with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates embryo research, about using rabbit eggs instead.

The plan was revealed by one of Professor Wilmut's research colleagues. Professor Chris Shaw, from King's College London, said they hoped to take a rabbit egg, remove its genetic material and replace it with human DNA.

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