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All we want to do is help cure people.

Byline: By Linda Richards

The director of the Newcastle Fertility Centre is part of the team which has applied for Britain's first research licence to clone human embryos for stem cell research.

Prof Alison Murdoch is excited about the research and the implications for improving health care.

Dr Miodrag Stojkovic, who came to Newcastle from the University of Munich, is the project's chief scientist with Dr Majlinda Lako and Prof Tom Strachan.

The team has been successful in deriving stem cells from non-cloned embryos and Prof Murdoch said the purpose of the new project is to improve the overall efficiency of the cloning process.

The team is focusing on diabetes but the process can be used to treat and cure other diseases. Prof Murdoch is quick to stress they are not carrying out human cloning. She said: "We are not cloning individuals. We are not creating any new genetic material. We are just trying to cure people.

"We are cloning the technologies and skills we have had from helping couples to become pregnant but using them to find cures for diseases such as diabetes.

"The use of the term embryo is not appropriate. What we are doing is taking the skin cell from someone who has say diabetes, taking the nucleus from that skin cell which has been programmed to become a skin cell.

"The nucleus from the skin cell has the ability to become any cell type in the body but has been programmed to become a skin cell. We want to programme it to make it an insulin-making cell. The way we pre-programme it is to put it into an egg and stem the egg to divide it. That has the same effect as re-formatting a disc on a computer which wipes the memory clear.

"When the new egg is divided we can take the stem cells from that and teach the stem cells how to make insulin. Then these cells can be put back into the same patient to cure diabetes.

"It might take five or 10 years before we can do this. It is basic research to find we can perfect these techniques. The House of Lords Select Committee in 2003 decided this kind of research was appropriate to be carried out in the UK. The Government is supporting it because they see huge potential benefits to improve health care.

"We are starting off with diabetes because there is a big interest in Newcastle. We will also use eggs that have come from women who are having fertility treatment if the eggs fail to fertilise and would otherwise be disregarded."

They plan to create early embryos that would be clones of patients with diabetes as part of a programme to study the disease.

The process involves transferring all the genetic material from a diabetic's skin cell into a human egg whose own nucleus has been removed.

After the transfer, the egg will be stimulated to start growing into an embryo. When it is still a microscopic ball of a few hundred cells these will be extracted and cultured for stem cell research.

Ultimately they will teach the stem cells how to make insulin secreting cells, then these cells can be put back into the patient to cure diabetes. Eggs left over from fertility treatment will also be used with the donor's consent.
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:May 10, 2004
Words:556
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