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King's Scientists Submit Stem Cell Research Licence Application

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Dr Stephen Minger, Director of the King's Stem Cell Biology Laboratory, (King's College of London) has submitted the application to the HFEA with his King's colleagues, Professor Chris Shaw of the Institute of Psychiatry and Professor Clive Ballard of the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases.

The team plan to derive human embryonic stem cells using adult cells from patients with genetic forms of neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Spinal Muscular Atrophy.

Instead of using human eggs, the researchers will remove the nuclei from animal eggs and replace them with cells from the patients, thus creating cloned stem cell lines that contain the same genetic mutation that results in these neurological disorders.

Scientists currently use human eggs that have failed to fertilise in IVF procedures for this technique, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).

However, the efficiency of SCNT is currently low and therefore creating early-stage 'chimeric' embryos will allow researchers to improve the technique without using human eggs.

Dr Stephen Minger said, "Once the nucleus of the animal egg is removed it essentially no longer has a species identity and when replaced with a human nucleus, the resulting embryo and cell line will have human genetic identity."

"But I will stress that the cell lines derived by SCNT will only be used for biological and pharmacological research, not for therapeutic purposes."

The King's scientists hope to collaborate in this research with colleagues in Shanghai who have pioneered the use of non-human eggs for SCNT to create human embryonic stem cell lines.

They submitted their application at the same time as a team from Newcastle University, led by Dr Lyle Armstrong of the North East England Stem Cell Institute.

Professor Ian Wilmut of the University of Edinburgh will seek permission for similar research at a later date.

Dr Minger added, "Our research team at King's College London is optimistic that the HFEA will rule favourably on our licence application."

"We feel that the development of disease-specific human embryonic stem cell lines from individuals suffering from genetic forms of neurodegenerative disorders will stimulate both basic research and the development of new treatments for devastating brain diseases."

Professor Chris Shaw commented, "The cloning of disease-linked human embryonic stem cell lines has huge potential to help us understand disease processes and discover new treatments."

"We must remember however that Hwang failed to generate a stem cell line following nuclear transfer - or cloning - of 2,000 fresh human eggs."

"We believe that a great deal of progress can be achieved using animal eggs and that this is an essential strategy to pursue in parallel to the human egg work."