A controversial neurosurgeon in Italy said this week that he and his fellow researchers may be able to conduct the first human head transplant next year.
We suggest they start with their own.
Dr. Sergio Canavero has been compared to Dr. Frankenstein, and called a nut, but that hasn’t stopped him and members of his consortium — from China, South Korea and the U.S. — from severing the spinal cord of the beagle above (just so they could try to reattach it) and doing the same with numerous mice.
If that’s not weird enough, Canavero and team say that before they attempt a head transplant on a live human, they will conduct some experiments on human corpses, and then reanimate them with electricity to test his technique.
We can only assume they will do so in the basement laboratory of a castle, during a thunderstorm.
Canavero is director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group. He released three papers this week, and the video above, showing how he and his collaborators had successfully reattached the spinal cords of the dog and several mice.
Canavero also claims that researchers led by Xiaoping Ren at Harbin Medical University have already performed a head transplant on a monkey – connecting up the blood supply between the head and the new body.
Canavero’s short term goal is to successfully transplant a human head. His long term goal, he admits, “is immortality.”
What’s an acceptable number of dogs to torture in a quest of that nature?
We’d say none.
Canavero says the experiments on animals prove the technique used — known as GEMINI spinal cord fusion — incorporates a chemical called polyethylene glycol, or PEG, to encourage neurons to grow toward each other and connect.
He suspects it will also work in humans to fuse two ends of a spinal cord together, or to connect a transplanted head to a donor body.
He made the claims in a series of papers published in the journal Surgical Neurology International.
The claims have been met with widespread skepticism, according to New Scientist.
Canavero first announced his plans to conduct a human head transplant in 2013 and established the ead Anastomosis Venture, or HEAVEN, project to develop the techniques needed to carry out such an operation.
His collaborator in South Korea is Dr. C-Yoon Kim, a neurosurgeon at Konkuk University in Seoul who partially severed and reattached the spinal cords of 16 mice. Five of the eight mice who received PEG regained some ability to move. The other three died — as did eight who were in a control group.
In another experiment the South Korean team nearly severed the spinal cord of a dog. While the dog was initially paralyzed, three days later the team reported it was able to move its limbs and wag its tail.
South Korea is also the birthplace of dog cloning and up until this summer — when an American company cloned a dog for a customer — it was the only country cloning dogs for profit.
It’s probably not too outlandish — given all the bizarre turns medical researchers are taking — to wonder if surplus canine clones in South Korea end up being used for other wacky experiments by mad (or at least overly zealous) scientists.
In fact, if you look at its history, creating dogs for medical research use was one markets mentioned by the developers and marketers of dog cloning.
Could it be that some of the ideas initially presented in science fiction might ought to remain in the realm of science fiction?
Canavero’s research papers don’t indicate how many more dogs might have their necks snapped or heads severed by his research team as they boldly and single-mindedly stride toward their goal.
But, again, we’d argue that — no matter what medical gains it could lead to for humans — it should be NONE.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 22nd, 2016 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, china, cloning, controversial, cord, dog, dogs, dr. sergio canavero, experiments, frankenstein, head transplant, heaven, human head transplant, italy, lab, laboratory, medical, neurosurgeon, pets, reattached, research, science, sergio canavero, severed, south korea, spinal, u.s.
Just as the earliest efforts to clone a dog in America didn’t make a huge splash, news-wise, neither did the recent birth — nearly 20 years later — of the first made-in-America canine clone.
ViaGen, a genetic preservation company in Texas, announced at the end of July that the first successful cloning of a dog in America had led to a birth, and that the Jack Russell terrier pup had been delivered to clients.
Chances are you haven’t read about it — because hardly anyone has written about it.
Including me — the guy who wrote that dog cloning book.
I received an email Monday containing the press release announcing the successful cloning. It came from Andrew Lavin, a public relations consultant in New York who handles publicity for ViaGen. It was dated Sept. 12 and included the photos of the clone, named Nubia, that you see here.
When I checked online to see what news coverage the announcement had received, I found almost none — only an “article” in Pet Age magazine (actually a verbatim reprint of the company press release) in July.
When I called ViaGen’s Austin offices to clear up some of my confusion I was told the press release had originally been issued at the end of July, and they didn’t know why the one I received had been re-dated to Sept. 12.
When I asked why the announcement had not received greater news coverage, the person on the phone said only, “It was a soft press release.” She didn’t explain what that meant.
(I can only guess it means a press release sent to a limited few, vague and fuzzy on the details, and accompanied by a “we’re not going to answer any questions” attitude — one that is low-profile enough to not arouse any detractors, such as the many animal welfare organizations that frown on cloning pets, saying it is cruel to animals and exploits bereaved pet owners.)
When I asked ViaGen for more information about the cloning, I was told, “all media requests go through Andy,” meaning Andrew Lavin.
He eventually returned my call and answered my email, explaining that he had “updated” the original press release — and therefore changed the date on it.
He did seek answers to my questions and sent me ViaGen CEO Blake Russell’s responses to them. Russell sidestepped far more than he answered.
Their original dog is deceased, but they were able to have her cloned with tissue samples taken by her vet when she was spayed.
Asked where the other dogs that are needed to produce a successful clone came from — dogs in heat from whom egg cells are harvested, and female dogs who serve as surrogates — Russell said ViaGen Pets purchases oocytes from an unnamed provider and that “ViaGen Pets uses a production partner to supply the needed surrogates.”
Presumably, the merging of egg and donor cells and the surgeries necessary were performed at ViaGen labs in Texas.
Texas, by the way, is where the whole crazy idea got started — though it wasn’t pulled off until scientists in South Korea cloned the world’s first dog.
Here’s the condensed version:
Shortly after the birth of the world’s first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, in 1996, the wealthy founder of the University of Phoenix, John Sperling, decided that cloning his girlfriend’s dog, Missy, would make for a lovely gift.
He teamed up with his girlfriend’s son, Lou Hawthorne, to find a learning institution that would be interested in cloning the world’s first dog.
They chose Texas A&M University and funneled millions into the project.
For years, from 1998 to 2002, researchers there tried to clone a dog. They were able to clone the world’s first pig, cat, bull and goat, but dogs, they found, were extra difficult.
Hawthorne had high hopes of turning the cloning of pet dogs into a big business, and it was during this time that he launched Genetic Savings & Clone, a company that, like Viagen, stored the cells of pets whose owners thought they might someday want a clone.The research project at Texas A&M, eventually, was dropped, but the quest was picked up by Seoul National University in South Korea, which produced the first dog clone, Snuppy, in 2005.
The thousands produced since then — most often for bereaved pet owners seeking a duplicate of the dog they lost — have all been made in South Korean laboratories.
At one point, two Korean companies were producing dog clones for customers, and one American company was selling dog cloning, too.
Bio Arts, a company Hawthorne started in hopes of cloning dogs on its own, ended up teaming up with one of the Korean companies, Sooam, led by former Seoul National University scientist Hwang Woo Suk, to provide clones to American customers.
Among the first of those shipped back to the U.S. was a clone of Missy, which he presented to his mother, Sperling’s girlfriend.
She noted the puppy was ill-behaved, and said she didn’t want it.Hawthorne later pulled out of the partnership with Sooam, citing, among other reasons, his concerns that accepted animal welfare protocols — or at least those accepted by most Western countries — weren’t being followed by the South Koreans.
“A cloned dog contributes to the happiness of a family but I do not think it is possible to do it without a huge amount of suffering to hundreds of others,” Hawthorne told The Mirror, which was reporting on the first dog cloning for a customer in the UK.
In an interview with the Mirror, Hawthorne referred to the vast numbers of dogs that it took — up to 80, he said — to clone just one. And he confirmed that, as my book reported, Korean cloning researchers borrowed dogs from dog farms — farms where dogs are raised for their meat — for the process.
Today, only one of the Korean companies is still in operation.
Another Korean company that paved the way for cloning pet dogs — and provided the first clones to an American customer — pulled out of cloning pet dogs in 2011, not long after the publication of my book, “DOG, INC: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”
ViaGen’s successful cloning of a dog lessens the likelihood of dog cloning fading away; instead it brings the process to American shores, and offers it at a much reduced price — $50,000 instead of the initial $150,000 the Korean companies charged.
ViaGen Pets says it is now the only American company offering pet cloning services — and says they are doing so “in full compliance with all U.S. regulatory standards and humane pet care practices.”
The are no federal laws against cloning dogs, or for that matter, humans, in the United States.
ViaGen,a long-time cloner of livestock, produced its first cloned cats for customers last year and it has been banking the cells of pets for more than a decade.
The company says the birth of Nubia will likely increase demand for cloning and genetic preservation of companion pet DNA.
President Blake Russell said the company has already genetically preserved almost 1,000 pets and that there is a waiting list for the cloning procedure.
“The potential to have an identical twin to something that was very important and special in your life is an unprecedented opportunity and has brought a lot of joy to pet owners,” Russell says in the press release.
In addition to the cost of cloning, ViaGen charges a $1,600 fee and $150 a year to store tissue samples from pets whose owners may someday want to clone them.
The cloning procedure involves injecting cells harvested from the original dog into egg cells harvested from female dogs, a jolt of electricity to help them merge, and implanting the resulting embryo into a surrogate mother dog who carries the pup to birth.
ViaGen says a cloned puppy or kitten is “simply a genetic twin born at a later date, and should share many of the original’s attributes, including intelligence, temperament and appearance.”
The South Korean company guarantees only that the appearance will be identical, or nearly identical — but they often achieve that by producing multiple clones.
Many of dog cloning’s customers have come from the U.S. and the U.K. — and up to now they have been turning to Sooam Biotech to clone their dogs.
Most animal welfare organizations oppose the practice, pointing to the number of other dogs it takes to produce a clone, the intrusive procedures, the creation of surplus clones, and the sometimes nightmarish results. They also say pet cloning companies are exploiting the grief of bereaved pet owners.
There has been little outcry from them about the fact that dog cloning is now being done in America. Then again, it’s a development of which many people — possibly having missed that “soft” press release — aren’t aware.
In any case, it appears an American-born idea has finally — for better or worse — come to fruition in America.
(Photos of Nubia courtesy of ViaGen Pets; photos of Snuppy and a cloning underway at Sooam by John Woestendiek)
Posted by John Woestendiek September 16th, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: america, animals, banking, cells, clone, cloned, cloning, cloning dog, cloning in america, dna, dog, dog clones, dog inc., dogs, first dog cloned in america, genetics, john sperling, jolt, laboratory, made in america, nubia, pets, preservation, science, seoul national university, shock, snuppy, sooam, storing, texas A&M, viagen, zap
They’re being called the first identical twin dogs in history, which isn’t really true.
They’re being called the first “confirmed” or “recorded” identical twin dogs in history, which technically isn’t true either.
Not to be too nitpicky, and not to rain on anyone’s parade, but the first confirmed twin canine was born in 2005, created by man in a laboratory, with help from a few jolts of electricity.
He was an Afghan hound, named Snuppy. And his twin was the donor dog, whose extracted cells he emerged from. Thousands of identical twins have been born since then. They are called clones.
So to be annoyingly accurate, we must call the Irish Wolfhound brothers born in South Africa earlier this year the first confirmed and recorded identical twin dogs that aren’t clones.
They were delivered by Kurt de Cramer, a veterinarian in South Africa’s Rant en Dal Animal Hospital in Mogale City, who, during a Caesarean section, was surprised to find two puppies in the same placenta.
“When I realizd that the puppies were of the same gender and that they had very similar markings, I also immediately suspected that they might be identical twins having originated from the splitting of an embryo,” de Cramer. told the BBC.
The significance of that is that — though dogs from the same litter often look alike — it has never been documented before.
de Cramer called upon colleagues to help confirm the finding. The team, including Carolynne Joone of James Cook University in Townsville, Australia and Johan Nöthling of the University of Pretoria in South Africa, obtained blood samples when the twins were two weeks old.
Those tests, and subsequent ones on tissues six months later, showed their DNA to be identical,
Their findings were published in the journal Reproduction in Domestic Animals.
While it is the first case of its type to be recorded in scientific literature, the birth of identical twin dogs may not be all that rare.
Pups in a litter often look similar. DNA tests are not routinely performed. And because mother dogs generally eat (or if you prefer, clean up) the placenta after birth, evidence of two dogs sharing a placenta doesn’t linger.
Twins can be either monozygotic (identical), meaning they develop from the same zygote (or egg cell), which is fertilized by the same sperm cell; or they can be dizygotic (fraternal), meaning they develop from two different egg cells, each fertilized by separate sperm cells.
Twinning in mammals is uncommon, occurring regularly only in humans and armadillos. While it has been reported in horses and pigs before, both twins rarely survive.
Today the twin dogs, called Cullen and Romulus, are doing well. They were slightly smaller than normal at birth, but by six weeks of age they had reached a similar size to the other pups in their litter.
Cute as they are, Cullen and Romulus are not really trailblazers. Most likely, many identical twin dogs have been born over the years — the natural way — and gone undetected.
For sure, hundreds more have been born in recent years the grossly unnatural way.
So, sorry about that nature, but when it comes to the “first” identical twin dogs — at least according to the written record, and the “scientific literature” — technology beat you to the punch.
(Photos: Kurt de Cramer, via BBC)
Posted by John Woestendiek September 2nd, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, breeding, caesarian, clone, cloned, clones, cloning, cullen, dna, dog, dogs, first, identical, identical twin dogs, identical twins, irish wolfhounds, kurt de cramer, litters, monozygotic, pets, placenta, recorded, romulus, science, shared, south africa, technology, twin dogs, twins, veterinarian, veterinary
The university that cloned the first mammal is now investigating why some older dogs — especially those in colder climes — sometimes experience limp tails.
A study at Edinburgh University in Scotland says the phenomenon known as ‘limber tail,’ which causes a dog’s tail to become limp and difficult to move, tends to affect larger working breeds, and is more common among dogs who live in the north.
The study of dozens of dogs found that the chance of a dog developing the condition rose by 50 per cent for each additional degree of latitude further north he or she lived.
Working dogs, who spend more time outdoors, and those who enjoy swimming were also around five times more likely to develop “limber tail,” which is also known as “cold tail” or “swimmer’s tail.” More informally, the condition is sometimes referred to as a dog “losing their wag.”
Personally, we like the name a Telegraph headline writer gave the condition: Erect-tail dysfunction.
No, this is not The Onion you’re reading, and this is not a joke — at least not to the dogs who get it. Owners report that it can be very painful and distressing for the dogs.
“We were surprised by how many owners were reporting limber tail to us but it meant we had the chance to do a detailed investigation,” said Dr. Carys Pugh, of The Roslin Institute and Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies.
The Royal Dick School of Veterinary Studies, commonly referred to as the Dick Vet, is no joke, either. It’s the veterinary school of the University of Edinburgh.
Dolly the sheep, the world’s first mammal clone, was born at the Roslin Institute in 1996, marking a new era of biological control. Nine years later the cloning of dog — the 18th species successfully cloned — was achieved by scientists in South Korea.
Those affected by limber tail were more likely to be working dogs, and more likely to regularly swim.
The condition, which was first reported in the scientific press in 1997, is thought to affect around 60,000 dogs in Britain, “but owners often struggle to find out what is wrong with their pets as there is little literature available,” the Telegraph reported.
It’s generally not a lifelong condition; rather, it resolves itself within a few days or weeks.
The researchers hope further studies will identify genes associated with the condition, which could one day help breeders to identify animals that are likely to be affected.
Caroline Kisko, Secretary of Kennel Club, which funded the research through its charitable trust, said owners should be careful not to over-expose their dogs to the cold.
“The condition is rare, but is it most often seen in working dogs such as Labrador retrievers, flat coated retrievers and pointers. Dogs usually recover their normal tail posture and function over a period of days or weeks, however it can be painful.”
Gudrun Ravetz, junior vice president of the British Veterinary Association warned owners not to become so worried about the cold that they stop exercising their pets.
“Limber tail is rarely seen in veterinary practices and the research indicates that most owners do not seek veterinary attention for this problem,” she said.
(Photos: Top, a young chocolate Lab with a perky and lively tail; bottom, an older chocolate Lab whose tail has gone limber)
Posted by John Woestendiek August 3rd, 2016 under Muttsblog.
Tags: breeds, cause, cloning, cold, cold tail, edinburgh, erect-tail dysfunction, genes, genetic, limber tail, limp, losing the wag, research, retrievers, roslin institute, science, scientists, study, swimmer's tail, treatment, university of edinburgh, working breeds, working dogs
If you were to pick up Jung Myoung Sook, her 200 dogs and her ramshackle hillside compound and plop them down in rural America, she’d be consider a hoarder for sure.
But in South Korea, where the dogs she’s caring for might well have otherwise ended up as meals in homes and restaurants, she’s really more of a saint.
Her neighbors don’t always feel that way, but I do.
Jung, who was featured on NBC Nightly News last week, has had to pack up and relocate seven times in the more than 25 years she has been rescuing dogs, due to complaints from those living nearby.
Jung picks ups strays living on the street, and she has also bought dogs that were headed to be sold for their meat.
The AP article said all the dogs in the compound appeared to be healthy.
While a small minority of South Koreans eat dog meat, dogs are raised on farms for that purpose, and can be bought, slaughtered and butchered at open-air markets.
While it has been six years since I visited one there, while researching “DOG, INC.,” my book on dog cloning, I haven’t been able to get those images out of my head since.
Seeing Jung’s smiling face, and reading of her work, helps some.
“My babies aren’t hungry. They can play and live freely here,” said Jung, 61. “Some people talk about me, saying, ‘Why is that beggar-like middle-aged woman smiling all the time,’ but I just focus on feeding my babies. I’m happy and healthy.”
Posted by John Woestendiek February 9th, 2016 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, cloning, cultural, culture, dog, dog meat, dogs, hoarder, hoarding, jung myoung sook, korea, markets, pets, rescue, sanctuary, shelter, south korea, strays
Ten years after a dog was first successfully cloned, scientists have managed to produce the world’s first litter of pups to be born through in vitro fertilization.
In July seven puppies were born through IVF at Cornell University — five beagles and two “bockers,” or beagle-cocker spaniel mixes.
The achievement was not revealed until this week with the release of the research study.
Seems like science would have happened the other way around — that a “test-tube” puppy would have premiered long before we entered the even more science fiction-like era of cloned dogs becoming available on the marketplace.
But, while IVF has been used for decades in other animals, including humans, scientists had never succeeded in using it to produce a newborn pup.
Previous attempts to use IVF in dogs had resulted in very low rates of fertilization, and no live births at all once IVF embryos were transferred to a host.
“Since the mid-1970s, people have been trying to do [IVF] in a dog and have been unsuccessful,” said co-author Alex Travis, associate professor of reproductive biology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health in Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
What made it so difficult were some of the same factors that proved challenging in cloning dogs — females only ovulate once or twice a year, and their eggs are not transparent, making it harder to see the structures inside of the egg.
The Cornell researchers, in a joint project with researchers from the Smithsonian Institution, found that by waiting an extra day for eggs to mature before extracting them, they met with more success.
Adding magnesium to the environment where the sperm and egg met also helped with fertilization, the team found, according to a Cornell press release.
The achievement was revealed this week in a study published online Dec. 9 in the journal Public Library of Science ONE.
The seven surviving puppies (out of 19 embryos) are genetically the offspring of two different fathers (a cocker spaniel and a beagle) and three different beagle mothers, carried by the same beagle surrogate.
Unlike cloning, which involves transferring an existing (or dead) dog’s DNA into a donor egg, IVF involves the creation of a new genome through fertilization. Each each animal has a unique set of DNA.
The researchers say the development will open the door for preserving endangered canid species using assisted reproduction techniques.
It could also enable researchers to eradicate heritable diseases in dogs and facilitate the study of genetic diseases in dogs and humans, they say.
(Photo: Cornell graduate student Jennifer Nagashima and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute research biologist Nucharin Songsasen — lead author and co-author of the study — walk some of the puppies born through IVF; by Jeffrey MacMillan / Cornell University)
Posted by John Woestendiek December 10th, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, assisted, beagles, biology, bockers, cloned, clones, cloning, cocker spaniels, cornell, cornell university, dna, dog, dogs, egg, first, in vitro, in vitro fertilization, ivf, pets, puppies, pups, reproduction, research, science, sperm, study
First, scientists in South Korea brought us dog cloning — a chance, or so it was initially described, to use cells from your sick, dying or even dead dog to create the exact same dog again, in healthy puppy form.
It was a bad idea.
Now, scientists in China are hard at work on an equally worrisome one.
Chinese researchers report they have created a beagle with double the amount of muscle mass, through a process called “gene editing.”
Gene editing involves injecting embryos with a DNA snipping enzyme, Cas9, and a guide molecule that zeroes in on a particular stretch of DNA. The goal is to knock out the myostatin gene so a dog’s body can not produce any of the muscle-inhibiting protein that the gene manufactures.
The result, as they see it, is a Super Dog — useful to the police and military.
This is hardly the first time man has manipulated the species. We’ve been doing it for centuries by inbreeding them to create dogs that, while not necessarily healthier — and sometimes quite the opposite — better suit our needs and please our eyes.
But gene editing is, right up there with cloning, one of the more blatant, creepy and invasive routes man has taken.
And it prompts us to say, with more emotion than a scientist can probably understand: Dogs are already super, China. So leave them the hell alone.
To create one “super beagle,” the researchers injected more than 60 dog embryos. Less than half survived to birth. Of 27 puppies born, only two had the sought after disruption in their myostatin genes.
And in only one was the gene editing considered “complete,” said Liangxue Lai, a researcher at the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health.
Custom made, genetically engineered dogs will have “more muscles and are expected to have stronger running ability, which is good for hunting, police (military) applications,” Lai is quoted as saying in the MIT Technology Review
Lai and 28 colleagues reported their results last week in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology, saying they intend to create dogs with other DNA mutations, including ones that mimic human diseases such as Parkinson’s and muscular dystrophy to be used in biomedical research.
South Korea’s dog cloners, in addition to cloning dogs for bereaved pet owners, are also creating dogs for the police and military, and dogs with diseases for research purposes.
Lai said his group had no plans breed to breed the extra-muscular beagles as pets. But, as the Review article points out, that wouldn’t stop others from moving to commercialize the gene-editing process.
A different Chinese Institute, BGI, said in September it had begun selling miniature pigs, created via gene editing, for $1,600 each as novelty pets.
And if gene editing follows the path of dog cloning, now available to dog owners for $100,000, its transition to marketplace will be swift an unregulated.
In addition to pigs, goats, rabbits, rats and monkeys have been engineered using gene editing in China, which considers the efforts a national scientific priority — much like South Korea did with dog cloning.
Lai’s team says the sole male dog they successfully produced, named Hercules, would pass the myostatin mutation on if he were to be bred.
“The favorable traits that result from gene editing can pass generation by generation,” says Lai.
“Favorable,” in this case, meaning what the researchers hoped for.
For the 33 embryos that didn’t survive, and perhaps for those that did, we’d hardly consider it favorable, or even necessary.
No dog lover should.
Edit your papers, scientists — not our dogs.
(Photo: Hercules, at left, and Tiangou, the world’s first gene-edited dogs, from MIT Technology Review)
Posted by John Woestendiek October 21st, 2015 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, beagles, china, chinese, cloning, dna, dogs, embryos, engineering, gene editing, genetic, genetics, injected, manipulation, muscles, pets, super dog