Monkey clones given brain disorders for medical testing

Katie Ramirez
January 26, 2019

Chinese scientists cloned five monkeys from a gene-edited macaque with circadian-related disorders, another first for the country in the controversial field. Researchers used the same technique as was used past year to produce Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua - the first ever two cloned monkeys - and Dolly the sheep, famously cloned in the late 90s in Scotland. By testing new drugs on primates genetically engineered to have a pre-existing condition, and seeing if they respond, scientists hope treatments for ailments such as Alzheimer's disease can be brought to market more quickly. The cloned monkeys already display signs of "negative behavior" like sleep disorders, elevated levels of anxiety and depression, and "schizophrenia-like behaviors", as per the study published the journal National Science Review.

The article says that He's gene-editing activities were "clearly prohibited by the state", but it doesn't mention which specific laws or regulations the researcher broke.

In 2017, He, then little-known, attended a meeting in Berkeley, California, where scientists and ethicists were discussing a technology that had shaken the field to its core - an emerging tool for "editing" genes, the strings of DNA that form the blueprint of life.

The five clones were created using cells from a young adult gene-edited donor monkey. She points out the lack of global guidelines for this kind of research.

Chang Hung-Chun, a researcher who took part in the study, said that creating primates with bio-clock problems could help develop treatments for a range of human medical conditions, including sleep disorders, diabetes, cancer and neuro-degenerative diseases.

He said that the research signified the maturing of China's somatic cell cloning.

The reconstructed egg then developed into an embryo that carries the genes of the replacement nucleus. The cell nucleus was transferred into a seedless egg.

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That said, some have raised ethical concerns - both with the idea of gene-editing monkeys to make them more disposed to these serious disorders as well as with cloning an animal like that for research purposes.

The researchers plan to continue improving the technique to increase the efficiency of cloning.

Since Dolly was cloned in Scotland back in 1996, more than 20 species of mammals have been cloned around the world - including cattle, cats, dogs, horses and rats.

"Without the interference of genetic background, a much smaller number of cloned monkeys carrying disease phenotypes may be sufficient for pre-clinical tests of the efficacy of therapeutics", Poo said.

"This behavior seriously violates ethics and the integrity of scientific research, is in serious violation of relevant national regulations and creates a pernicious influence at home and overseas", a Xinhua News Agency report said. Furthermore, the study is being supervised by the institute's ethics panel.

"The best way to reduce the number of monkeys used in such experiments is to stop such animal experiments", Cao told Newsweek reporter, Hannah Osborne.

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