China clones gene-edited monkeys for sleep disorder research

The first cohort of five gene-edited monkey clones made from fibroblasts of a monkey with disease phenotypes were born recently at the Institute of Neuroscience (ION) of Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Shanghai.

Scientists knocked out BMAL1, a core circadian regulatory transcription factor, using gene editing at the embryo stage.

The clones also displayed elevated levels of anxiety, as well as "schizophrenia-like behaviours".

He has said the only gene that he edited using the CRISPR technology was to ensure the babies would be immune from the HIV virus.

Next, they picked a donor monkey from which they would make the clones.

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

All five macaques were born with identical genes, which include the mutation.

However, CASIN defended the practice of using cloned animals for medical research.

"Disorder of circadian rhythm could lead to many human diseases, including sleep disorders, diabetic mellitus, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases, our BMAL1-knockout monkeys thus could be used to study the disease pathogenesis as well as therapeutic treatments", said Hung-Chun Chang, senior author and investigator at the Institute of Neuroscience.

The Xinhua article confirms many details of the case for the first time: starting in June 2016, it says, He put together a team that, from March 2017, recruited eight couples consisting of an HIV-positive father and an HIV-negative mother.

"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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In the future, the team plans would focus on cloning monkey models with different brain diseases.

This time past year, the first primates cloned through a nucleus transfer technique made headlines around the world.

Deborah Cao, a professor at Australia's Griffith University whose work focuses on animal welfare, ethics and law, commented on the latest announcement.

The Institute of Neuroscience, CAS is following strict worldwide guidelines for animal research.

It follows the controversy past year caused when another Chinese researcher, He Jiankui, created the world's first genetically edited babies using a similar technique.

"Even if CAS follow the research guidelines, such animal research poses potential and unknown risks", she said.

"When they develop a new drug, they need to conduct a large number of animal tests to evaluate its performance and adverse effects". And it is inherently cruel to the animals as they can not give or withhold consent.

The scientist who announced a year ago that he had produced the world's first gene-edited babies has been fired by his university. "This line of research will help to reduce the amount of macaque monkeys now used in biomedical research around the world".

"Instead of developing nonhuman primate disease models for humans, they should develop human disease models for humans".

The present work succeeded in using fibroblasts from a young adult gene-edited donor monkey with disease phenotypes, while in the previous work, Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were generated by using fibroblasts from an aborted fetus.

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