University of Bristol
Wellcome Trust
Recommended by:
Society of Biology
PEEP for Physics & Ethics at GCSE

Hybrid embryos in studying and treating disease

Artificially created stem cells could lead to new ways to model the development of genetic diseases. For example, you could take the nucleus from a skin cell of someone with Parkinson’s Disease and use this to create a hybrid embryo. Stem cells harvested from this embryo would also contain the gene(s) responsible for the disease. The cells could be studied to see how the disease develops and to test new treatments.

Terry Pratchett, famous author, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2007 and campaigns to raise awareness of the illness. Click the image to find out more.

With this approach scientists hope that new therapies can be found for diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and Motor Neurone Disease as well as Parkinson’s Disease.

Normal brain  Severe Parkinson's

Issue: Hybrid embryos could potentially help treat serious diseases and advance our knowledge of how cells develop. But the law says that such cells should not be allowed to grow beyond a few days old. Currently there are no plans to create human animal hybrids that could be born and live. These embryos would only live in the lab. But any tissue and organs created in this way for implants would carry the mitochondrial DNA of the egg donating animal into a living human.

Questions: Does it matter if animal mitochondrial DNA is carried by an person? Why?

Next: The regulation of research

Having seen your grandfather suffer from Parkinson’s you desperately want to see all that is possible to be done to develop new drugs against the disease. However your religious leaders refuse to see hybrid embryo research as a way forward.

Can you think of three things you could do to help resolve this ethical dilemma?