19 February 2007
ByAppeared in BioNews 395
The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) has given its backing to the creation of animal-human hybrid and chimera embryos for research purposes. The Government advisory body made the announcement at their most recent plenary meeting, in response to the current debate about whether research that involves the mixing of human and animal material should be permitted in the UK.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 is currently under review, and the Government's White Paper published last December proposes that the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos should be banned in legislation. A draft Bill is expected in March with legislation likely to be updated in 2008.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has already received applications from two research teams who want to use cow or rabbit eggs to generate human embryonic stem cells. However, as the current Act does not explicitly refer to this type of research, the HFEA have deferred making a policy decision until a public consultation is carried out.
The HGC will be responding favourably to the HFEA's consultation, although several of its members felt that the regulatory framework was already in place to deal with this type of research. Sir John Sulston, the HGC's Deputy Chair, said at their plenary meeting, 'It seems to me extremely clear that we already have a very satisfactory agreement with the rule which allows experiments up to 14 days. The research which is now being proposed is no different'. However, Baroness Kennedy QC, Chair of the HGC, welcomed the consultation, emphasising that sections of the public might not share these views. She said that it was for scientists to make the case in the public realm, to explain that the work did not involve the devaluing of humanity or risk the creation of alarming new forms of life.
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee is also currently conducting an inquiry into the Government's proposals for banning the creation of animal-human chimera embryos for research purposes, and is expected to report before the publication of the draft Bill.