Subj: Scientists Genetically Engineer a Monkey
Date: 1/11/01 2:43:52 PM Pacific Standard Time

January 11 1:53 PM ET

Scientists Genetically Engineer a Monkey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Scientists said on Thursday they had genetically
engineered a monkey, the closest relative yet to a human to be
genetically altered, in a step that could hasten the development of
cures for diseases ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's.

The baby rhesus monkey is named ANDi, backward for "inserted DNA," and
looks like any other baby monkey, said Gerald Schatten and colleagues of
the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center at the Oregon Health
Sciences University.

"ANDi is robust and plays normally with his two roommates," said
Schatten's team, who reported the achievement in Friday's issue of the
journal Science.

Many animals have been genetically engineered. Flocks of genetically
modified sheep produce human proteins for use in the drug industry and
genetically engineered bacteria and yeast routinely provide human
proteins such as insulin.

Mice carrying human genes are used to study cancer, heart disease and
many other conditions.

But until now no one had managed to put a new gene into a primate, the
class of mammals that includes humans.

"We think it's a special step," Schatten, whose team developed the first
cloned monkey in 2000, said in a telephone interview.

The extra gene that ANDi carries does not do much. Called GFP for green
fluorescent protein, it is taken from jellyfish and is often used as a
"marker" gene because cells containing it can be seen glowing under a
special microscope.

Schatten stressed that ANDi is not green. "These are not Day-Glo
monkeys," he said.

The idea is to engineer monkeys with genes known to cause disease in
humans. Perhaps these monkeys could even be cloned, so that exact copies
could be used to study drugs and other potential treatments without
having to factor in genetic variation, Schatten said.

Mice are already used in this way but are not always similar enough to
humans to be good models.

"If you are a mouse with Alzheimer's, there are very good vaccines
available. But long before we would want to help (former) President
(Ronald) Reagan, (who suffers from Alzheimer's), we'd want know that
those vaccines could be optimized," Schatten said.

Bridging Gap Between Mice And Men

"The world may be ready for some specially bred monkeys that literally
bridge the gap between mice and people."

Monkeys are much closer to humans than mice are, he said. "Animals that
don't have monthly cycles don't suffer from breast cancer like women,"
he said. "That is why we think a limited number of specially bred
monkeys could help us eliminate cancers."

Schatten said he does not want to breed hundreds and hundreds of monkeys
for medical research.

"We wouldn't want to make a monkey that carries a disease unless we knew
there was a cure right in front of us. Our goal isn't to make sick
monkeys. Our goal is to eradicate diseases,'' he said.

It would be hard to make many transgenic monkeys now, in any case.

Schatten's team said it used a retrovirus to carry the GFP gene into 224
monkey eggs. Researchers used a common infertility technique called
ICSI, in which a sperm is injected into an egg, to fertilize the eggs.

Only 40 embryos and five pregnancies resulted and only three monkeys
were born alive. Just one, ANDi, carried the GFP gene but dead twin
monkeys also carried the gene.

Schatten said his team next wants to learn how to control just where the
gene is inserted into a cell's DNA, which could be important to how the
gene works.

He also said a genetically modified monkey is not a first step to making
designer babies.

"We are only in this business to make disease models to eradicate
diseases," he said -- adding that there is no single gene for height,
good looks or intelligence anyway.