British Researchers Want to Do Human-Cow Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 7, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 7
, 2006

London, England ( — British researchers have filed a request with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority regulatory body in the UK for permission to create human-cow embryos. The scientists say they will be able to make cheap, yet safe stem cells for research purposes.

The scientists want to mix human cells with rabbit, goat and cow eggs and they hope the radical technique will help them avoid having to use human eggs, which critics say exploits women.

The scientists, based at Newcastle University and Kings College, believe the hybrid embryos would be 99.9 percent human and 0.1 percent animal and said all of the embryos would be destroyed after 14 days and now implanted for reproductive purposes.

That means all of the semi-human embryos would be killed in the process.

The cow eggs that would be used would be stripped of their nuclei and allow for the insertion of human DNA, resulting in the creation of the chimera or hybrid.

Pro-life groups have labeled the human-animal hybrid "abhorrent."

And Calum MacKellar, from the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, was quoted as saying it presented ethical problems.

"In this kind of procedure, you are mixing at a very intimate level animal eggs and human chromosomes, and you may begin to undermine the whole distinction between humans and animals," he said.

But Dr. Stephen Minger of Kings College put a pro-science and pro-cures spin on the notion in an attempt to justify it in an interview with The Independent newspaper.

"We feel that the development of disease-specific human embryonic stem cell lines from individuals suffering from genetic forms of neurodegenerative disorders will stimulate both basic research and the development of new medicines to treat these horrific brain diseases," he said.

Last June, Yale University came under heavy criticism for mixing human and animal cells in bizarre research.

Yale University scientists, funded by the United States government, are inserting millions of human brain cells into the heads of monkeys afflicted with Parkinson’s disease. They said the experiments will help them better understand the disease and possible provide a cure.

Yale researcher Gene Redmond and his team are conducting the work on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts because the island, and its neighbor Nevis, have a large population of feral African monkeys.

Redmond told AP he hopes the research will show that supplying the brain chemical dopamine to the monkeys will cure the disease.

But researchers and bioethicists are still concerned.

Stanford University bioethicist Christopher Scott said "the stuff that raises the most ethical concerns" is the research like Redmond’s.

Osagie Obasogie of the Oakland-based Center for Genetics and Society told AP, "The technology is advancing quicker than the regulations."

Last year the National Academy of Sciences issued guidelines asking institutions conducting such human-animal experiments to create formal, standing committees to evaluate any ethics concerns.

But Obasogie says the recommendation has no teeth and he worries committees would simply rubber stamp the experiments.

"You don’t want a monkey with 95 percent of its brain cells being human," he told the Associated Press, "and to ensure that takes more than a recommendation."