Company resumes embryo research; Cow egg, human gene combo created stir The Cincinnati Enquirer
The biotech firm that pushed the ethical envelope last year with its announcement that it had created embryos by fusing human genetic material with cow's eggs said Thursday that work on that project has resumed after a three-year hiatus.
Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), a Massachusetts-based firm, is already expert in cloning cows using a technique similar to the one that produced Dolly the sheep. The company said last November that it had made its 1996 research public to see what the reaction would be.
At the time, the company's news stunned researchers and ethicists already grappling with news that other scientists had created human embryonic stem cells in the lab - a major breakthrough with significant ethical implications, since some stem cells are created from human embryos.
The cow's egg is hollowed out and contains no genetic material from the cow; it appears that the human genetic material drives the development process and overrides any cellular instructions from the cow's egg.
"After discussing this . . . we decided to reinstate the work," ACT
President Michael West told Gannett News Service. The company has been working on the project since the beginning of the year, he said.
The reason for the research remains the same as it did in 1996, he said: to find an acceptable substitute for scarce human eggs, also known as oocytes, and continue work on stem cell research. "Human oocytes are simply not available," he said.
Similar work is being done at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center, which has been attempting to clone monkeys. That group reported in the June issue of the journal Biology of Reproduction that it had fused the genetic material of sheep, pigs, rats and monkeys with empty cow eggs, and had implanted the resulting embryos in other animals.
None of the pregnancies went to term, and it remains to be seen whether using one species' eggs for all cloning work is worthwhile, the researchers wrote.
A human-animal hybrid, particularly one that would not be implanted in a uterus and could not become a child, could provide a neat solution to the ethical problems some Americans have with human embryo research, said Thomas Murray, president of the Hastings Center, an ethics think tank. ACT has said it has no plans to implant human-cow embryos.
"Suppose there was a way to create stem cells without creating embryos," he
said. "Many Americans who have qualms about working with embryos, that gives them another option. But I'm not personally enthusiastic about what ACT is doing."
Gina "Nanogirl" Miller
"Nanotechnology: solutions for the future."