Scientists who created Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned mammal, applied for a license on Tuesday to clone human embryos to obtain stem cells for research into Motor Neurone Disease.
LONDON Scientists who created Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned mammal, applied for a license on Tuesday to clone human embryos to obtain stem cells for research into Motor Neurone Disease.
Professor Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, hopes to study how the paralyzing illness -- also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease -- develops, with a view to finding an effective treatment.
"We believe it will produce entirely new opportunities to study Motor Neurone Disease," he told a news conference.
If the license is approved by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), Britain's cloning watchdog, it will be the second granted for the controversial research, which has incited fierce ethical debate because it involves creating human embryos which can be mined for their stem cells.
A team of scientists from Newcastle University in northern England were granted a license in August to clone human embryos to develop new treatments for diabetes and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
"This is not reproductive cloning in any way," said Professor Christopher Saw, of the Institute of Psychiatry, who will collaborate on the research.
Human reproductive cloning is outlawed in Britain but therapeutic cloning, creating embryos as a source of stem cells to cure diseases, is allowed on an approved basis.
Stem cells are master cells of the body that can develop into other cell types.
Motor Neurone Disease affects nerve cells that carry instructions from the brain to the muscles. It weakens muscles and causes paralysis but the patient's brain is not affected.
About 70,000 patient worldwide suffer from the illness including British physicist Stephen Hawking.
The disease is inherited in about 10 percent of cases. There is no effective treatment.
Wilmut and his colleagues plan to use the same technique that was successful in creating Dolly in 1996. They will extract genetic material from a skin or blood cell of patients suffering from an inherited form of the illness and place it in an egg whose nucleus has been removed.
The egg will be stimulated to develop into an embryo and allowed to develop for about six days, when the stem cells will be extracted.
The scientists will compare the stem cells with both healthy and diseased cells from patients to better understand the illness and to test potential medicines.
"Our objective is to understand the disease. We hope one day it will lead to treatments," Wilmut added.