China clones five gene-edited monkeys to study sleep disorder

Kenny Tucker
January 25, 2019

"This line of research will help to reduce the amount of macaque monkeys now used in biomedical research around the world".

The first article describes the generation of gene-edited donor monkeys, using CRISPR-Cas9 method to edit the BMAL1 gene of in vitro fertilized monkey embryos. But in the altered version this protein isn't produced, leading animals to exhibit symptoms of circadian disorders, such as reduced sleep and greater movement at night.

Chinese researcher He Jiankui shocked the scientific community after revealing that he had successfully gene-edited twin girls born in November to prevent them from contracting HIV.

Chinese scientists have made clones of a gene-edited macaque to aid research of circadian rhythm disorders that are linked to sleep problems, depression and Alzheimer's disease, the official Xinhua news agency said on Thursday.

The same Shanghai institute previously made news in January 2018 by announcing researchers had cloned the first two monkeys using a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer.

The method was the same used to produce the celebrated sheep "Dolly" more than 20 years ago.

China announced the birth of two healthy cloned monkeys previous year - a world first - but the latest development is being hailed as a breakthrough of a different kind.

"The genie's out of the bottle now", said Jose Cibelli at the time, a cloning expert at Michigan State University in the US.

The cloned baby monkeys have increased anxiety, depression, sleeping problems and are displaying schizophrenia-like behaviour.

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

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Dr Julia Baines, Science Policy Advisor at PETA UK also reportedly said: "Genetically manipulating an then cloning animals is a monstrous practice that causes animals to suffer".

The clones were born at the Institute of Neuroscience at the China Academy of Sciences in Shanghai.

They say it will eventually mean less live monkeys having to be used in lab experiments around the world and could give fresh insight into killer diseases such as cancer.

"Some of them will carry gene mutations known to cause human brain disorders, in order to generate useful monkey models for drug development and treatment".

It's important to note that because primates share approximately 95 per cent of human genes and a number of physiological and anatomical similarities, biomedical research now uses a large number of monkeys, sometimes up to 100,000 annually around the globe. "This will greatly help the ethical use of non-human primates for biomedical purposes".

Xinhua said the program, supervised by the institute's ethics panel, was in line with global ethical standards for animal research, though many will disagree.

Chinese scientists say the monkeys will be used to improve treatment for brain disorders.

They selected one of the gene-edited monkeys with the most severe disease phenotypes as the donor.

He has not been seen in public since he announced the birth of the twins in November, leading to speculation that he has been detained.

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