BioWorld International Correspondent

Sydney, Australia Stem Cell Sciences Ltd., an unlisted company based in Sydney, said it has exclusive rights to technology reportedly used by Chinese researchers to clone very early stage human embryos as a source of stem cells.

SCS announced that it had rights to the cell nuclear replacement (CNR, or therapeutic cloning) to clone 200-cell embryos. The technology was used by the Chinese team, led by Lu Guangxiu of the Xiangya Medical College in Changsha.

The Wall Street Journal reported the claim by the Chinese scientists in early March, with Lu telling The Wall Street Journal that only 5 percent of the cloned embryos survived to the 200-cell stage, needed for stem cell harvesting.

Media reports have since stated that Lu, who runs a fertility clinic, is regarded as a credible scientist in China.

After news of Lu’s work broke, SCS Managing Director Peter Mountford announced that his company had the rights to SCS technology used by Lu, but did not reveal any details of the agreement.

He also said the patented technology had been developed, using a mouse model, at the Institute of Reproduction and Development at Monash University in Melbourne and the Centre for Animal Biotechnology at Melbourne University.

“We are delighted that the discoveries made here in Australia in the first-ever proof of principle of CNR appear to have been validated in the human system,” Mountford said. “We look forward to scientific publication of the work, which must, of course, undergo the appropriate peer review.”

Mountford told BioWorld International that SCS initially planned to use any embryonic stem cells harvested from the cloned embryos to build what amounted to a mass bioscreen to look for lead molecules. The screen would use stem cells from both diseased and healthy humans.

Future work in Australia may depend on current federal government deliberations over which line to take on embryonic stem cell research. At present, the area is governed by a patchwork of state regulations. The federal government has reportedly considered banning stem cell work, with the government of New South Wales, the largest Australian state, reacting by threatening legislation to permit the work. The debate has been continuing for several months.