New Research Study Challenges Effectiveness of Human-Animal Hybrid Cloning

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 2, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

New Research Study Challenges Effectiveness of Human-Animal Hybrid Cloning

by Steven Ertelt Editor
February 2
, 2009

Boston, MA ( — For pro-life advocates, there is little ethical reason to support hybrid cloning that involves the infusion of animal and human DNA together to create a two-species embryo to be killed for research purposes. Now, a new study finds there is little efficacy of such research, which sounds more like a bad sci-fi movie.

Cloning backer Robert Lanza, a controversial lead scientist at the biotech firm Advanced Cell Technology, authored the study, which appears to give pro-life advocates more ammunition.

The study found eggs from animals are not a good source for creating the embryonic stem cells that some researchers want to use in experiments.

In the study, Lanza attempted to replace the nucleus of both human and animal embryos and advance them to a later stage of development. The experiment went awry and the nuclei of rabbit, mice and cow embryos were replaced with a human nucleus.

"We would get these beautiful little embryos but it wouldn’t work: instead of turning on the right genes the animal eggs would turn them off," Lanza told AFP.

The importance of the failure is that researchers were not able to get the cloned animal eggs to yield human embryonic stem cells for further study.

Ian Wilmut, a prominent British scientist who created Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal, and has now backed away from cloning technology to focus on (iPS) cells, talked about the failure.

He says the "very important paper" makes it clear that animal cells "are extremely unlikely to be suitable as recipients for use in human nuclear transfer," he said. "This is very disappointing because it would mean that production of patient-specific stem cells by this means would be impracticable."

Alan Trounson, president of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, also admitted that hybrid cloning is less likely to be helpful to patients down the road compared to IPS cells, which pro-life advocates have hailed because they can create embryonic-like stem cells without destroying human life.

"Most people are working on IPS cells (stem cells derived from skin) rather than nuclear transfer because it’s so difficult to get human eggs," Trounson said.

Zeki Beyhan of Michigan State University, who was not involved in the study, also said the results put hybrid cloning in doubt.

"We biologists refrain from using terms like ‘impossible’, ‘inconceivable’, but it seems an extremely remote possibility to establish embryonic stem cells using (cloned) embryos unless the two species are close relatives," he said.

Scientists who favor hybrid cloning are not backing down despite the failure.

Lanza told AFP that he believes it is too soon to give up on hybrid cloning and embryonic stem cell research, even though it has never helped any patients like the use of adult stem cells.

And Stephen Minger of King’s College London, who has received permission from the British government to engage in hybrid cloning there, tells AP that, "The idea that this is the nail in the coffin for hybrids is grossly overstated."

The study was published in the Cloning and Stem Cells journal.

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