China clones gene-edited monkeys for sleep disorder research

China clones gene-edited monkeys for sleep disorder research

In a new announcement, also out of China, researchers reveal that they've cloned a handful of new monkeys as well, but this time around the donor monkey was genetically modified to exhibit specific disorders associated with hormone imbalance and mental health.

That said, some have raised ethical concerns - both with the idea of gene-editing monkeys to make them more disposed to these serious disorders as well as with cloning an animal like that for research purposes.

Chinese scientist He Jiankui is to face a police investigation in the southern city of Shenzhen after he edited the genes of human embryos, as details emerged of a second woman carrying a baby genetically modified by him, state media reported.

The cloned monkeys already show signs of "negative behavior", including sleep disorders, as well as elevated levels of anxiety and "schizophrenia-like behaviors", the paper added.

Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua hit headlines a year ago when they were born using the same method with cells from an aborted foetus.

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

Other species were subsequently cloned via the method over the years but primates had until last year proven hard to clone and the team's achievement was hailed as a breakthrough.

For decades, researchers around the world had struggled to achieve this scientific know-how because some proteins were easily damaged in the cloning process.

This was then replace with the nucleus from another cell in its body - from a fibroblast, a cell that creates collagen.

"The efficiency is still very low. This experiment should not have taken place, and must not open the door to other similar studies at this stage". The effectiveness of drugs should be tested. "The differences between individual animals could severely affect the reliability of these results", he said. The research on the cloned monkey, the focus is on the so-called circadian rhythm. The creation of monkeys with a uniform genetic background is useful for developing models of human diseases, which can be used to study therapeutic treatments, the researchers said.

Right now, China is proving itself to be a controversial testing ground for the ethical limits of genetic engineering technology.

The children's DNA had apparently been manipulated using gene-editing technology called CRISPR-Cas9.

While the research is meant to back efforts in testing and developing drugs for the treatment of various human diseases in the succeeding years, this development comes on the heels of the recent controversy involving the gene-edited human babies. He Jiankui organized and handled funding for the experiment without outside assistance in violation of national guidelines, the Xinhua News Agency said.

This latest experiment took place at China's new brain science research park, launched past year in Shanghai by the Chinese Academy of Sciences's Institute of Neuroscience and local government.

"This line of research will help to reduce the amount of macaque monkeys now used in biomedical research around the world", says neuroscientist Mu-ming Poo, who contributed to both the editing of the original macaque and its cloning.