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HFEA to consult on use of animal eggs in ES cell research

15 January 2007

By Dr Jess Buxton

Appeared in BioNews 391

The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has announced that it will hold a public consultation on the use of animal eggs in human embryo research. The decision follows a meeting held last week, at which the authority considered applications from two teams who want to use rabbit or cow eggs to generate human embryonic stem cells (ES cells). The HFEA said that after careful consideration, this research would potentially fall under its remit, and would not be prohibited by current legislation. But Chief Executive Angela McNab called for 'a full and proper public debate and consultation' as to whether licences should be granted for these sorts of experiments. She added 'when the consultation has been completed in the Autumn, we will then be in a position to consider individual applications'.

UK law currently makes no reference to embryos that contain both animal and human material. However, a Government White Paper published last month proposes that the creation of 'hybrid and chimera' embryos should not be allowed. But it adds that the new law will contain a power allowing future regulations to set out the circumstances under which such research could be licensed. The proposals follow a review of the current law, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act 1990.

Last Wednesday the Times newspaper published a letter signed by 45 scientists, academics and politicians, which expressed support for research involving the mixing of human and animal cells and DNA. They included the leaders of the teams whose applications are currently being considered - Dr Stephen Minger, of King's College London, and Dr Lyle Armstrong, of the University of Newcastle. Commenting on the HFEA's decision, Dr Minger said: 'Although we are naturally disappointed that the HFEA has not recommended that our research applications go to the licensing committee, we are happy with their decision to consult both public and scientific opinion regarding SCNT - (cloning) of human cells using non-human eggs'. He added that 'one good outcome is that the HFEA has not buckled under pressure from the Government on this issue'.

Dr Lyle Armstrong said that 'overall, I think the HFEA announcement is a lot better than it could have been', adding 'they have not supported an outright ban of our work and, moreover, the possibility of a further public consultation exercise gives us the opportunity to explain why the science is so very important for Britain and humanity in general'.

The teams both want to use enucleated animal eggs - those from which the nucleus, containing the vast majority of an egg's genetic material, has been removed. Genetic material from human patients could then be added to these 'hollowed-out' eggs, and the resulting embryos used to create ES cells that are virtually human. The scientists hope that this approach would overcome the lack of human eggs available for such research, which offers hope for understanding and treating many serious illnesses.

Dr Jess Buxton is Contributing Editor at BioNews and a Trustee at the charity that publishes it, the Progress Educational Trust (PET). She is co-author of The Rough Guide to Genes and Cloning (buy this book from Amazon UK) and Human Fertilisation and Embryology: Reproducing Regulation (buy this book from Amazon UK).

Fertility watchdog delays ruling on animal-human embryo research
The Times | 11 January 2007
Hybrid embryo research is legal, regulator says
The Guardian | 11 January 2007
BBC News Online | 11 January 2007
Stemming studies
The Times | 10 January 2007


21 January 2008 - by Katy Sinclair 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) License Committee has granted two one-year licenses permitting scientists at Kings College London and Newcastle University to carry out research using human-animal embryos. Over the past 12 months the HFEA has been deliberating on whether the creation of embryos using...
10 September 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has agreed in principle to allow the creation of embryos that contain both human and animal material. 'Cybrid' embryo research - a technique to derive human embryonic stem (ES) cells using 'hollowed-out' animal eggs - has been the focus of...
19 June 2007 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The UK's Academy of Medical Sciences has backed the creation of human-animal embryos for use in stem cell research, which is says should be subject to the same rules as research on human embryos, including the 14-day rule and a ban on implanting embryos into a...
21 May 2007 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The UK Government has published a draft version of the Human Tissue and Embryos Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. The proposals will amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. As it stands, the Bill will ban the creation of embryos that contain genetic material from both animals...
10 April 2007 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has challenged the UK Government's decision to propose a ban on the creation of hybrid or chimera embryos, calling such a move 'unnecessary'. In the report, the MPs said: 'We find that the creation of human-animal chimera or hybrid...

15 January 2007 - by Nick Meade 
The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has announced a public consultation on the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos. Scientists want to use such embryos to create genetically human embryonic stem cells(ES cells). This method would overcome difficulties associated with the collection of human eggs from donors, and would...
07 January 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
UK scientists hoping to use animal eggs in human embryonic stem (ES) cell research face a ban on their work, if proposals outlined in a recent White Paper become law. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates all human embryo research carried out in...
17 December 2006 - by Dr Kirsty Horsey 
On Thursday 14 December, UK Public Health Minister Caroline Flint announced the publication of the British Government's proposals for a major overhaul of the law on assisted human reproduction and embryo research. The proposals, contained in a new 'White Paper', follow an extensive public consultation exercise...
13 November 2006 - by Stuart Scott 
Two teams of British scientists have applied for licences to create hybrid embryos from human and animal cells in order to create stem cells. The North East England Stem Cell Institute - a biotech research body run by the Universities of Durham and Newcastle - and the Stem Cell...
09 October 2006 - by Heidi Nicholl 
British scientists from three separate research centres have announced their intention to submit simultaneous proposals to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) later this month seeking a licence to create human-animal chimeras. The researchers - based in London, Newcastle and Edinburgh - are seeking approval to carry out...

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