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Dolly-cloning director to discuss landmark research

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 31 - May 22, 1997

Ron James, managing director of PPL Therapeutics PLC, will speak at Virginia Tech Tuesday, May 27, at 7:30 p.m. in Squires Colonial Hall. He will discuss the significant scientific achievements that led to the cloning of Dolly the sheep, and the implications of these achievements. The talk is free and open to the public.

Scientists at the Roslin Institute and PPL, both of Edinburgh, Scotland, announced in a February 24 press release that they had created a healthy lamb from adult sheep mammary tissue. The work demonstrated that differentiation of adult cells can be overcome by transferring the nucleus from a cell taken from the sheep's udder to an unfertilized fetal cell from which the nucleus has been removed. The embryo with the new nucleus is then implanted in a surrogate mother. The resulting lamb is genetically identical to the donor of the udder cell nucleus. The work was published in Nature February 27.

One of the results of the February 24 announcement and world-wide media coverage was a charge from President Bill Clinton to the White House Bioethics Commission to investigate the implications of the research. The commission was asked to report back in three months.

James said in response to that action, "We are happy to liaise with and co-operate with any advisory committee." The February 25 news release from the Roslin Institute also quoted him as saying, "We welcome the move to ensure that any use of the new technology is carried out within ethical guidelines. We do not condone any use of this technology in the cloning of humans. It would be unethical."

PPL produces therapeutic human proteins in the milk of livestock using transgenic technology--the introduction of genes from one species into the DNA of another. PPL Therapeutics' leading product, produced in sheep, is a potential drug for the treatment of cystic fibrosis. The ability to clone sheep would mean a successful, adult transgenic animal--one that produces the needed proteins--could be exactly duplicated.

PPL Therapeutics, Inc. of Blacksburg is a subsidiary of the Edinburgh company. It was formed in 1994 when Transpharm merged with Pharmaceutical Proteins Ltd. of Scotland. Transpharm was a spin-off company of several Virginia Tech faculty members' research.