ngin - Norfolk Genetic Information Network

14 October 2002


GE shorts:
1. Dolly the Sheep creator turns to humans
excerpts from New Scientist Vol. 176, October 12 2002:
2. Dark side of the genome
3. Cancer scare hits gene cures
4. Retrovirus blamed for giving boy leukaemia
5. Gimmicky fish


1. Dolly the Sheep creator turns to humans

The Observer, October 13, 2002

Professor Ian Wilmut, creator of Dolly the Sheep, is planning to clone human  embryos, it was revealed yesterday. The biologist disclosed that he was preparing to lodge Britain's first application to carry out highly controversial stem-cell research on humans.

Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, said that, if his institute approved the idea, it would then be considered by external regulators.

If  given the green light, the professor's research would focus on using the same technique that was used to create Dolly - nuclear transfer - to clone early human embryos. The cells would be genetically identical to cells taken from an adult. More important, these embryonic stem cells would act as parent cells that could develop into any type of tissue.


2. Dark side of the genome, Pg. 3

In recent years scientists have unveiled so many genomes to such great fanfare that you'd be forgiven for thinking these blueprints offer an ironclad guarantee of success. As long as we diligently invest in  high-tech "genomics" research, we tell ourselves, these blueprints are certain to speed up the fight against disease and one day turn into panaceas. Malaria, more than any other disease, exposes the laziness of such thinking.

...unless these compounds [drugs and insecticides targeted at specific genes] are affordable they won't save many lives... And if affordability sounds like a politically correct side issue that can be safely left till later, consider this. Drug resistance in malaria is a growing problem - yet it doesn't have to kill. It is perfectly possible to treat parasites that are immune to older malaria drugs, such as chloroquine, with newer drugs. The problem is these drugs  are beyond the pockets of many countries, despite large discounts from manufacturers. If genome research produces more of the same, and is not backed up with money to buy drugs, it will not ease the plight of the world's poorest.

Nor will it help if governments and research charities now opt to throw the bulk of their resources into mining these two genomes at the expense of established, and sometimes less glamorous, lines of research that will probably deliver benefits much sooner.


3. Cancer scare hits gene cures, Pg. 4

Long touted as the revolutionary key to treating inherited illnesses, gene therapy had only just recovered from the storm of criticism that followed the death of American teenager Jesse Gelsinger in the trial of a different type of gene therapy in 1999. Worse, the very treatment now being linked to leukaemia has been instrumental in restoring confidence, having produced a string of spectacular cures for other children suffering from "severe combined immunodeficiency".

British experts... say that leukaemia has always been regarded as a possible side effect of using retroviruses to genetically manipulate white blood cells.


4. Retrovirus blamed for giving boy leukaemia, Pg. 5

THE finger of suspicion for the leukaemia that struck a young French boy receiving gene therapy is pointing squarely at the retrovirus used to treat his condition... there is at present no way to control where such viruses "land". And in at least one batch of stem cells given to the boy, the added DNA ended up inside Lmo2, an oncogene on chromosome 11 that is implicated in leukaemia. The fear is that the virus switched on Lmo2 as well as the added gene... If so, the key question is: was this bad luck - a one-off event - or something that is likely to recur whenever gene therapists use retroviruses to correct genetic defects?

One idea is that MLV may actually prefer to embed itself in genes linked with leukaemia. But that idea is rejected by Adrian Thrasher and Bobby Gaspar, immunologists with the gene therapy team in London at the Institute of Child Health at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. They say the virus embeds itself in different places in every patient. Since there are more than 3 billion places where the therapeutic DNA could land, and because only 10 to 100 of the infected bone marrow cells "take" when returned to the patient, the chances of an oncogene being activated in those 10 to 100 hits are slim indeed. But Thrasher is open to the idea  there might be some "hot spots" where the virus tends to settle. After all, he points out, HIV does show such preferences.


5. Gimmicky fish, Letters, p.27

You report that the Taiwanese company Taikong hopes to sell a genetically modified, glow-in-the-dark fish to aquarium enthusiasts worldwide (14 September, p 13). The position of the Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association is that GM fish have no place in the industry or as a hobby. The OATA represents about 600 businesses in Britain, many supplying tropical fish for aquaria.

I expressed this view when Taikong spoke of their intentions at a trade show and conference in Singapore early last year. My intervention was met with stony silence even though the chair invited a response from the speaker. The beauty of the range of species available makes GM technology to produce gimmicky fish entirely unnecessary.

Keith Davenport; Trowbridge, Wiltshire
Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association

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