Sinogene, a biotech company based in Beijing has cloned a gene-edited dog in an attempt to treat cardiovascular disease. 

Longlong was cloned from Apple, another dog whose genome was edited to develop the disease atherosclerosis, reports CNN. With the genetic information coded in, the disease was passed along to Longlong, who will be studied by scientists and focus on the condition and its possible cures. 

This dog joins two other puppies that have been cloned by Sinogene, which means they now have four genetically identical puppies, including Apple, Longlong and two canines, Xixi and Nuonuo. 

Feng Chong, technical director at Sinogene, said, “Dogs share the most inheritable diseases with human beings.”

When creating Longlong, the scientists combined two cutting edge bio-technologies for the first time, CRISPR and somatic cell cloning technology. 

Right now, the dogs haven’t shown any symptoms of the disorder even though researchers are closely monitoring their health. Mi Jidong, general manager of Singogene explained that drugs to treat cardiovascular diseases are already being tested on the healthy animals. 

As with the topic matter, such work will always be met with ethical concerns. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a statement branding the research “unethical.”

“Cloning is not only expensive, but also inherently cruel,” they continued. Furthermore, there is also a lack of legal protection for laboratory animals in China. According to China’s National Institutes for Food and Drug Control, there are approximately 20 million lab animals, mostly mice, which are used annually for testing. 

The debate continues surrounding whether so much money should be put into such risky research, when it could be used elsewhere to help homeless pets rather than create more animals. 

“The vast amount of money used to clone could help save millions of cats, dogs and other companion animals who are euthanised at shelters every year because there are not enough homes for them,” said Chi Szuching, representative of PETA Asia. 

However, the scientists at Sinogene believe that their work aids the future of pharmaceutical development and biomedical research, and plans to produce more cloned dogs like Longlong. 

Feng added, “Gene-edited dogs are very useful for pharmaceutical companies. The supply falls short of the demand every year.”

There is a wider discussion that making their gene-edited dogs more accessible could revolutionise research in this area. The current method used involves less suffering he emphasised. 

Sarah Chan, Chancellor’s Fellow in bioethics at the University of Edinburgh in the UK, believes that scale matters when it comes to commercialisation, as well as ethics. 

She believes that research of this kind with a small number of test animals doesn’t pose large ethical concerns yet. But if it were done on a larger scale and the long term, people need to strike a balance between scientific advances and animal welfare.