The cure to Batten disease might finally be found in a flock of genetically modified sheep.
Scientists of The Roslin Institute in Scotland have created a flock of sheep carrying the human gene that causes hereditary brain disease in humans. The condition called Batten disease affects children from ages 5 and 10 years and is fatal within a few years of being diagnosed.
Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute is known for its breakthrough in cloning after it successfully cloned Dolly the sheep from an adult somatic cell. Dolly went on to become the world’s most famous sheep even making it to a Time magazine cover back in March 1997.
The experiment was designed to test treatment options for the rare neurodegenerative disease. As of yet, no cure is available for Batten disease. Scientists working on the experiment have noted that the unnatural approach of creating sheep that are genetically programmed to die is a controversial one. However, the team emphasized their aim of alleviating human suffering at the expense of the mutant sheep.
Speaking to The Guardian, the project’s lead researcher Tom Wishart says,
“We have deliberately re-created the condition in a large mammal because sheep have a brain of a similar size and complexity to that of a child. That means treatments we test on them are much more likely to be relevant to humans than those tested only on cell cultures or mice and rats.”
Batten disease is inherited from parents who carry the rare recessive gene mutation which causes it. The children who inherit two copies of the gene suffer from lost vision, impaired motor skills, damaged brain tissue, and seizures.