5-Animals: GM sheep to be used in fight against Huntington's disease
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-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE: GM sheep to be used in fight against cruel disease
SOURCE: New Zealand Herald, by Simon Collins
DATE: 24 Aug 2004
------------------- archive: http://www.genet-info.org/ -------------------
GM sheep to be used in fight against cruel disease
New Zealand researchers have won approval to create the world's first
flock of sheep that will be genetically modified to get Huntington's disease.
The flock of about 60 ewes and their descendants will give their lives to
help scientists learn how the fatal hereditary disease develops.
But the sheep will be bred in Adelaide because the scientists say they
cannot afford to get regulatory approval for the project in New Zealand.
Lead researcher Dr Russell Snell said AgResearch was keen to do the work,
but getting approval was likely to cost too much and take too long.
Scientists at the state-owned South Australian Research and Development
Institute will create the Huntington's flock by injecting a synthetic
copy of the genetic mutation that causes Huntington's disease into sheep
embryos fertilised artificially in the laboratory.
The embryos will be implanted into sheep's wombs to grow like normal
lambs, and if the plan works, a proportion will grow up with the
Once a stable sheep line with the gene has been established, the
institute will kill one infected sheep and one normal sheep every three
months and send their brains to Auckland for analysis.
Auckland University's Professor Richard Faull, a co-leader of the
research, said humans with Huntington's did not notice any symptoms until
the disease was well advanced, with many brain cells already destroyed.
"We'll do very careful chemical studies to see if there is any evidence
[of brain cell death in the sheep] before there are any symptoms," he said.
Professor Faull and Dr Snell said the sheep would not suffer before they
The animals will not live long enough to develop more advanced symptoms
of the disease, such as involuntary jerking and memory loss, because
sheep normally live only five to 10 years. Symptoms do not usually start
to show in humans until early adulthood, and then take several years to
"If we are going to develop a therapy, we want to address those changes
early on, before the cascade of events occurs later in the disease," Dr
The Auckland researchers will make the sheep available to any scientist
in the world who wants to test a potential treatment for Huntington's.
The Auckland group itself is among the leaders in the search for a
treatment because of a unique "brain bank" of people who died with
Huntington's disease whose brains have been donated by their families.
"Having given us the brains of their loved ones, there is an obligation
on us to pursue everything," Professor Faull said.
"If anyone has any doubt about whether we should use animal models, just
talk to a family. We received a brain ... from a family in Nelson whose
loved one died at 44. We had another brain from that same family 11 years
The research is financed by $500,000 over eight years from New Zealand
Freemasons and just over $500,000 over three years from the US-based
Hereditary Disease Foundation.
Freemasons spokesman Terry Meekan said the Masons approached Auckland
University after one of their members spoke about the effect of the
disease on his family.
Huntington's is a hereditary disease affecting about 15,000 people in New
Zealand. Every child of a Huntington's sufferer has a 50 per cent chance
of inheriting it. The disease destroys cells in the part of the brain
that controls movement. Symptoms include involuntary jerking, slurred
speech and gradual loss of mental ability.
European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering
Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
Kleine Wiese 6
D - 38116 Braunschweig
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