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
SOURCE: The Independent, UK, by Steve Connor
DATE: Nov 25, 2002
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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
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
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
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
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