Researchers in Korea are close to combining monkey DNA with cow cell to create a man-made stem cell, they claim. The scientists believe they will ultimately be able to implant human DNA into an animal ova to make an artificial stem cell which avoids some of the current ethical issues surrounding stem cell 'harvesting'.
"If we are successful, we will be able to apply the technologies to humans, making stem cells with animal ova, if society allows such an idea," said Professor Koo Deog-bon of the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology.
Scientists believe stem cells will be the basis of revolutionary new treatments for conditions like cancer, spinal cord injuries, and parkinson's disease, some of which are difficult or impossible to cure with traditional methods. Stem cells are already used for a variety of life-saving therapies, such as producing bone marrow cells to treat leukaemia. However, current methods of producing stem cells are controversial - the most successful technique involves extracting stem cells from human embryos. Researchers are searching for new ways of manufacturing large numbers of the cells.
The Korean experiments have so far not produced a cell viable for more than a few days, Professor Koo said, but he said he was confident of success. His institute was in a race against competitors to make the hybrid cell, he told The Korea Times yesterday. A reliable method of producing stem cells is expected to have tremendous commercial value. The institute files more than 200 patents each year to capitalize on its research..
Experiments which combine material from two species invariably trigger concerns that they may provide a vector for harmful viruses to mutate and jump the species barrier. The Korean experimenters are apparently unable to transfer mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) from the DNA donor to the host ova. It is unclear whether this might decrease the viability of the stem cells or lead to other complications.