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Genetically Modified Monkeys Created With Cut-And-paste DNA

Genetically Modified Monkeys Created With Cut-And-paste DNA

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Genetically modified monkeys created with cut-and-paste DNA
Breakthrough could help battle diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's but ethical concerns remain over animal testing
Genetically modified monkeys created with cut-and-paste DNA
Breakthrough could help battle diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's but ethical concerns remain over animal testing

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Published by: Children Of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance on Jan 31, 2014
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02/01/2014

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Genetically modified monkeys created withcut-and-paste DNA
Breakthrough could help battle diseases such as Alzheimer's andParkinson's but ethical concerns remain over animal testing
Ian Sample
, science correspondenttheguardian.com, Thursday 30 January 2014 12.26 EST
 
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The twin cynomolgus monkeys, Ningning and Mingming, born at Nanjing Medical University in China. Photograph: Cell, Niu et al
Researchers have created genetically modified monkeys with a revolutionary new procedurethat enables scientists to cut and paste DNA in living organisms.The macaques are the first primates to have their genetic makeup altered with the powerfultechnology which many scientists believe will lead to a new era of genetic medicine.The feat was applauded by some researchers who said it would help them to recreatedevastating human diseases in monkeys, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The ability to alter DNA with such precision is already being investigated as a way to make people resistant toHIV.But the breakthrough is controversial, with groups opposed to animal testing warning that itcould drive a rise in the use of monkeys in research. One critic said that genetic engineeringgave researchers "almost limitless power to create sick animals".The work was carried out in a lab in China, where scientists said they had used a genomeediting procedure, called Crispr/Cas9, to manipulate two genes in fertilised monkey eggs before transferring them to surrogate mothers.Writing in the journal, Cell, the team from Nanjing Medical University reported the delivery otwin female long-tailed macaques, called Ningning and Mingming. Five surrogates miscarriedand four more pregnancies are ongoing.The Crispr procedure has been welcomed by geneticists in labs around the world because of its enormous potential. Unlike standard gene therapy, Crispr allows scientists to remove faultygenes from cells, or replace them with healthy ones. It can even correct single letter spellingmistakes in the DNA code.The Chinese team, led by Jiahao Sha, said their work demonstrates how Crispr could be used tocreate monkeys that carry genetic faults that lead to diseases in humans. But the same could be
 
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done to small pieces of human organs grown in the lab, and used to test drugs, or to monitor the progress of serious diseases. Nelson Freimer, director of the centre for neurobehavioural genetics at the University of California in Los Angeles, said that while researchers often use mice to study human diseases, brain disorders are particularly hard to recreate in the animals because their brains are sodifferent."People have been looking for primate models for a whole list of diseases, but in the past it's been either completely unfeasible, or incredibly expensive. This is saying we can do thisrelatively inexpensively and quickly, and that is a major advance," said Freimer.But Freimer added that the use of monkeys was likely to remain a last resort. "It's going to bereally critical to define the problems for which this is used, just as you always do with animalresearch. You want to use all the alternatives before you propose animal research. This will bereserved for terrible diseases for which it offers hope that cannot be gotten any other way," hesaid.Tipu Aziz, who has used primates in his work on Parkinson's disease at Oxford University,welcomed the new procedure. "If we can identify genes for neurological disorders in a clinicalsetting and transpose those into a monkey it would be of massive benefit. I don't know that it'lllead to a rise in the use of monkeys, but it will lead to more focused studies," he said.Robin Lovell-Badge, head of genetics at the MRC's National Institute for Medical Research inLondon, said that genetically modified monkeys could be valuable to check new therapies before they are tried in humans. "Mice are fantastic models for some aspects of human physiology, but they are not always perfect, and it's good to have alternatives," he said. "If youare trying to develop a stem cell therapy and want to graft cells back into the brain, it's difficultto know how it will work in a complex brain, and mice or rats are not suitable." With Crispr,scientists could perform far more subtle genetic tweaks than is possible with other methods, headded.
 
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