Embryo work ‘could help treat human diseases’

ONE of the scientists behind the bid to create human-animal embryos said their work could help treat human diseases.

The Newcastle researchers plan to extract stem cells from embryos that are part cow and part human to see whether they have the potential to treat human diseases.

Future experiments may involve the creation of hybrid human and rabbit embryos.

A five-strong team of scientists led by Dr Lyle Armstrong plans to carry out the work at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle.

Dr Armstrong, a lecturer at Newcastle University, helped to create the world’s first cloned human embryo in 2005.

Dr Armstrong said: “At the moment we don’t know if the nuclear transfer process works well enough in humans to create useful embryonic stem cells.

“We need to carry out many tests to establish this and, as animal eggs are freely available, it makes sense to use these as a source of material for our laboratory work.”

Safeguards are in place to ensure this scientific work stays within British and international law.

“We will be very strictly monitored by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA),” he said.

“We are simply using some of the chemistry of the cow to programme the genes of a human cell.”

Within 30 or 40 years it may be possible to grow new human organs from stem cells which are ready for transplant patients.

“Some day it might be possible to produce new human organs in a factory instead of waiting for a donor to become available,” Dr Armstrong added.

“The advantage of this over organ transplant is that the recipient would not have to be on drugs for the rest of their life to prevent organ rejection.”

Last year, teams at Edinburgh University and Kings College London announced plans to seek permission from the HFEA for similar work and also await its decision.

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