Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Vital Work Delayed as Funds Run Short; Leading Scientist Now on Sabbatical

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Vital Work Delayed as Funds Run Short; Leading Scientist Now on Sabbatical

Article excerpt

Byline: Helen Rae

ALEADING North East scientist who was involved in the controversial creation of animal-human embryos has had to postpone his work at Newcastle University through lack of funding.

Dr Lyle Armstrong, of the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI), was one of three licence holders in the UK allowed to create animal-human hybrid embryos. In January last year, he received the green light from fertility regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for a one-year study which would create embryos that were 99.9% human and 0.1% animal to ease the shortage of fresh human eggs for research.

Dr Armstrong managed to create 278 hybrid embryos from human cells and cow eggs, before his funding stopped.

He now works in Spain where he is on a year's sabbatical to set up a collaborative laboratory between Newcastle University and the Centro de Investigacion Principe Felipe (CIPF), in Valencia. Every one of the three hybrid embryo projects has been abandoned, after publicly-funded research councils refused to back the studies aimed at developing new treatments for incurable illnesses, including Parkinson's, diabetes, and strokes.

Prof Michael Whitaker, co-director of NESCI, said research into hybrid embryos at Newcastle University had been put on hold but there was a development in research which suggested techniques using adult cells, called Induced Pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells), were of equal, if not, more significance.

Prof Whitaker, who works alongside Dr Armstrong, said: "It is fair to say we have not been given funding for the embryo research, which has currently been put on hold. However, I do not think there has been a problem with ethical and moral reasons for the lack of funding. We have been given pounds 2m by the Medical Research Council for research into stem cell treatment.

"The landscape of science has changed and iPS cells are a development forward and you can make these from adult cells, which hold huge promise in regenerative medicine, drug discovery, and for studying early human growth and the development of different human diseases. Stem cell work continues in Newcastle where teams are working on in-vitro derived sperm, on stem cells from hair follicles to help with spinal cord injuries and on limbal stem cells to cure blindness."

Two of the animal-human embryo research projects - including Dr Armstrong's - stopped earlier this year and the third ended after a funding application was denied and the licence by the HFEA expired in July without being renewed.

The news comes as a huge disappointment to those who campaigned for a change to the law that would permit the use of hybrid embryos for research into chronic conditions. The new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which came into force this month, was amended to allow the use of cloned embryos from human cells mixed with the eggs of cows, sheep, or other animals. …

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