28 January 2007
ByAppeared in BioNews 393
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee will hold its first evidence session this week in a new inquiry into the Government's proposals for the regulation of the creation of animal/human hybrid and chimera embryos for research purposes. The MPs will hear from scientists and members of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) this Wednesday. The Select Committee launched its inquiry following the publication of a Government White paper last month, which proposed that the creation of such embryos should be banned in new legislation.
The HFEA has announced that it will hold a public consultation on the issue, after it deferred making a decision on two licence applications from scientists who want to use rabbit or cow eggs to generate human embryonic stem cells (ES). The teams - lead by Dr Stephen Minger, of King's College London, and Dr Lyle Armstrong, of the University of Newcastle - both want to use 'enucleated' animal eggs in such research. 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.
This Wednesday, the Select Committee will hear evidence from Dr Armstrong, as well as Professor Chris Shaw, of the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London and Professor Austin Smith, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Stem Cell Research at the University of Cambridge. Later, it will hear from Ms Shirley Harrison, the HFEA's new Chair, as well as Chief Executive Angela McNab and authority member Professor Neva Haites.
UK law currently makes no reference to embryos that contain both animal and human material, but the recent White Paper proposes that the creation of 'hybrid and chimera' embryos should not be allowed when the legislation is updated in 2008. However, it also adds that the new law will contain a power allowing future regulations to set out the circumstances under which such research could be licensed. Earlier this month, 45 UK scientists, academics and politicians expressed their support for the use of animal eggs in research in a letter to the Times newspaper.
The Select Committee is expected to report before the anticipated publication of the Government's draft Human Fertility and Embryology Bill in March. Anyone who wishes to attend this week's evidence session should see 'Recommends' for details of this meeting.
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).