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Stem Cells from a Human-Pig Hybrid

Scientists hope to create a cell model to study heart disease.

British scientists will use pig eggs and DNA from a human patient with heart disease to generate stem cells. If successful, these will be the first human stem cells made from animal eggs.

A shortage of human eggs–a central ingredient in the cloning process–has stalled human cloning, so scientists are studying whether animal eggs can do the trick. (Two groups in the United Kingdom have already been given permission to move forward with hybrid research.) The concept of human-animal hybrids has proved controversial, but scientists will only generate cells from the research; they won’t let the embryos develop.

According to an article in the Guardian,

Although the stem cells will not contain any animal DNA, they will not be suitable for treating humans directly. Instead, the scientists will use the cells to learn how genetic mutations cause heart cells to malfunction and ultimately cause life-threatening cardiomyopathy.

“Ultimately they will help us understand where some of the problems associated with these diseases arise, and they could also provide models for the pharmaceutical industry to test new drugs,” [Warwick Medical School scientist Justin] St John says. “We will effectively be creating and studying these diseases in a dish, but it’s important to say that we’re at the very early stages of this research and it will take a considerable amount of time.”

Human-animal hybrid research has received much more attention in the United Kingdom than in the United States, largely because the research there is governed by a central regulatory board, and details of research proposals are made public. No broad-arching regulation exists in the United States, where scientists are mainly accountable to university ethical review boards.

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