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SCIENCE & SPACE

Scientists seek rabbit-human embryo

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Although made of rabbit cell material, scientists say the embryos would be controlled by human DNA.

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LONDON, England -- British scientists are seeking permission to create hybrid embryos by fusing human cells with rabbit eggs.

The scientists want to use the embryos to produce stem cells that carry genetic defects. Studying those stem cells could help understand a number of currently incurable diseases in humans.

Although made of rabbit cell material, scientists say the embryos would be controlled by human DNA.

They would not be allowed to grow beyond an early stage in the laboratory, and would only be used to investigate stem cell development, genetic defects and disease, they say.

Legal experts say it is not clear whether the embryos would be regarded in law as rabbit or human.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which governs this field of research, said Friday that any such work would have to be licensed, but did not rule it out.

Scientists from one team are already talking to the authority about the ethical and legal issues involved.

Their leader, Professor Chris Shaw, from King's College London, told the UK Press Association: "We have to think about obtaining alternative sources of eggs.

"The fertility of rabbits is legendary. There may be opportunities to use human cells for nuclear transfer to rabbit oocytes (eggs). Legally, the position is not clear, but that's something we'd like to discuss with the HFEA."

Shaw holds a joint licence to conduct human cloning research with Professor Ian Wilmut, the pioneer behind Dolly the Sheep -- the first mammal cloned from an adult cell.

The lack of suitable human eggs is a major obstacle in the path of therapeutic cloning and stem cell research.

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