Chimeric monkeys raise concerns for stem cell medicine

9 January 2012

Scientists in the US have created live monkeys from a mixture of different monkey embryo cells.
Published in the journal Cell, the research involved creation of chimeric rhesus monkeys from totipotent cells taken from up to six different early (four-cell stage) monkey embryos. Interestingly, attempts to create monkey chimeras using later stage, pluripotent embryonic stem cells failed, despite the fact that this method has been used successfully in mice.
This work is significant because it suggests that there may be fundamental differences between mouse and primate embryonic development. As much medical research directed at understanding human health and disease is based on mouse models, this distinction could be crucial if human embryos behave more like those of other primates than of mice.

Notably, the ability of embryonic stem cells to give rise to different forms of specialised tissues apparently becomes restricted earlier in monkeys than in mice, a finding that could be highly relevant to research into stem cell therapies. Commenting on the findings, Professor Robin Lovell-Badge of National Institute for Medical Research said there “may be a concern for regenerative medicine if such cells are not as flexible as hoped". 

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