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8-Humans: Dr. Wilmut seeks licence to prepare for human cloning



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TITLE:  Professor who cloned Dolly seeks licence to go to work on a human
        egg
SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Steve Connor
        http://news.independent.co.uk/world/science_medical/story.jsp?
        story=355574
DATE:   Nov 25, 2002

------------------ archive: http://www.gene.ch/genet.html ------------------


Professor who cloned Dolly seeks licence to go to work on a human egg

Ian Wilmut, the scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep, has applied for a 
government licence to work with human eggs in an experiment that prepares 
the way for human cloning.

Professor Wilmut's application to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology 
Authority (HFEA) covers a technique in which an unfertilised egg is 
stimulated in the laboratory to develop into an early embryo. The procedure 
is called parthenogenesis, which literally means "virgin birth" and results 
in cloned embryos that develop without the need for sperm to fertilise an 
egg.

Experts say that knowledge gleaned from the procedure will be invaluable 
for doing the sort of cloning that led to Dolly, where genetic material is 
transferred from an adult cell into an "empty", unfertilised egg.

Professor Wilmut's laboratory at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh will 
not, however, allow "parthenogenically activated" human eggs to be 
implanted into the womb, which is illegal in Britain.

The institute's application says the research aims to grow the human 
embryos in a test tube to a few days old, when the scientists can extract 
embryonic stem cells for study.

Professor Wilmut was unavailable this weekend but Harry Griffin, acting 
director of the Roslin, said the institute had formally requested legal 
approval to work with human eggs. "We can confirm that we have made an 
application to the HFEA for a licence under the Act but we're not prepared 
to comment on the details of an on-going process," he said.

Professor Wilmut said last month that he hoped to apply for a licence to 
start work on Dolly-type cloning using human eggs within six months. He did 
not mention that he had already prepared an application to do parthenogenic 
cloning.

Earlier this year, scientists from Advanced Cell Technology, an American 
biotechnology company in Massachusetts, announced they had successfully 
extracted embryonic stem cells from monkey embryos created by 
parthenogenesis.

Robert Lanza, of the Massachusetts team, said that by carrying out 
parthenogenic-activation of human eggs, Professor Wilmut would gather 
important insights necessary to do Dolly-type cloning on human eggs. "In 
the field of cloning, before you proceed with nuclear transfer of any 
species, you need to work out the activation protocol. Essentially that is 
learning how to fool the egg into thinking it is fertilised," Dr Lanza said.

Creating human embryos by parthenogenesis may circumvent many ethical 
concerns of generating embryos by the Dolly technique. In the US, the 
embryos made by parthenogenesis are not even considered embryos by some 
scientists, who call them "parthenotes". There is also the question of 
whether they are considered embryos under the 1990 Act, which defines an 
embryo as an egg fertilised by a sperm.

In mammals, parthenogenic embryos rarely survive beyond early development. 
Dr Lanza said the monkey stem cells from parthenogenically activated eggs 
grew into an array of specialised tissues, which could, in humans, help 
patients with illnesses such as Parkinson's disease.

The chomosomes of such cells would all derive from one woman, leading to 
hidden complications resulting from a genetic process called imprinting ? 
which carefully controls the pairs of maternal and paternal genes in a 
naturally fertilised egg. This is why some see the Roslin application as a 
prelude to the more controversial Dolly-type cloning, which aims to produce 
embryos that would provide more suitable stem cells for tissue transplants.

The HFEA is likely to decide on Professor Wilmut's application early next 
year.



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