UK allows creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for research

7 September, 2007:

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the fertility watchdog of the British government, has approved “in principle” the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos.

Scientists insist that creation of human-animal hybrid embryos will help them develop new treatments for illnesses such as Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease.

The HFEA cleared the way on September 5, 2007, for its experts to consider license applications from scientists wanting to combine the genetic material of human cells with animal eggs in order to create a new type of embryonic stem cell for research into debilitating disorders.

The fertility watchdog, however, emphasized that its decision to consider so-called cytoplasmic hybrid research was not a total clearance for the creation of human-animal embryos and that each application for a research license will be considered on its own merits.

The HFEA explained: “Having looked at all the evidence, the authority has decided there is no fundamental reason to prevent cytoplasmic hybrid research. However, public opinion is very finely divided with people generally opposed to this research unless it is tightly regulated and it is likely to lead to scientific or medical advancements.”

In November 2006, the HFEA had received two applications for research licences to carry out the cloning of animal eggs which have had 99% of their genetic material removed and replaced with a full complement of human chromosomes. The resulting embryos will be almost entirely human, but still part-animal.

As a result of public concerns about the technique, which were raised in a Government White Paper, the HFEA decided to conduct a full public consultation to decide whether it should even consider such license applications.

The consultation involved public surveys and opinion polls. It found that most members of the of the public were in favor of the technique once they had been properly informed about what it involves and shown the potential benefits in terms of the treatment of serious diseases.

Stephen Minger, director of the stem cell biology laboratory at King’s College London, and one of the scientists applying for a research license, welcomed the HFEA decision.

But the HFEA decision has also given rise to anger in some quarters. David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, said: “It is very disappointing, but comes as no surprise, since the HFEA can never say no to scientists. These experiments are scientifically useless and morally very problematic. The research lobby has distorted the scientific facts in order to defuse criticism.”

Dr King charged the HFEA with ignoring strong public opposition to such research. “People’s objections to violating the integrity of nature in this way are perfectly rational, and the science establishment ignores and ridicules them at its own peril,” he added.





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