Embryos Cloned From

Eggs Matured in Lab

Belgian scientists said yesterday that they have cloned the first human embryos from unripe eggs matured in the laboratory, an achievement that could help to overcome a stumbling block in stem cell research. Until now, scientists who have managed to clone human embryos have used donated mature eggs, which are in short supply.

But researchers at Ghent University Hospital in Belgium have demonstrated that immature eggs that are not suitable for fertility treatments can be grown in the laboratory and then be used to create embryos for stem cell research and therapeutic cloning.

Stem cells are master cells that have the capability to grow into any type of cell in the body.

Joisiane Van der Elst and Bjorn Heindryckx, who presented their work at a meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Copenhagen, said the cloned embryos grew to the 8-16 cell stage, which was too early to extract stem cells.

They are continuing their research to try to get the cloned embryos to the blastocyst stage when they can obtain the stem cells.

Taking More Folic Acid

May Slow Memory Loss

Taking large amounts of folic acid improved the memory of older adults in the first study to show a vitamin pill might slow the mental decline of aging, Dutch scientists reported yesterday.

The research adds to mounting evidence that a diet higher in folate -- a B vitamin found in grains and certain dark-colored fruits and vegetables -- is important for staving off a variety of diseases.

The Dutch study tested whether otherwise healthy people could slow the decline in brain function by taking double the U.S. recommended daily dose of folic acid -- the amount in 2.5 pounds of strawberries.

In the study of 818 people ages 50 to 75, half took 800 micrograms of folic acid a day, the other half a dummy pill, for three years.

Lead researcher Jane Durga of Wageningen University reported yesterday at an Alzheimer's Association meeting that on memory tests, the supplement users had scores comparable to people 5.5 years younger. On tests of cognitive speed, the folic acid helped users perform as well as people 1.9 years younger.

New Method Reveals 3

Genes Linked to Obesity

Seattle scientists have identified three new genes linked to obesity, using a novel research technique that could be widely applied to other genetic analysis.

Two of the genes, discovered in mice, someday could be targets for human obesity-prevention drugs, said Eric Schadt of Rosetta Inpharmatics, a Seattle biotechnology company where the research was centered. The new findings are reported in this month's edition of the journal Nature Genetics.

Almost all the genes linked to human obesity, including 20 to 30 that have been explored as drug targets, were discovered in rodents, Schadt said. At least two drugs already are on the market.

Only about 10 are accepted widely as having an influence in humans. The genes discovered by Schadt and his colleagues already are known for their involvement in other functions: inflammation, tumor growth and cell replication.

The research used DNA microarray analysis, which uses computers to observe thousands of genes at once, to determine which genes are "expressing," or producing new proteins. The newly found genes were more active in the obese mice.

-- From News Services