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Science adviser backs animal eggs for human stem cells

05 March 2007

By Dr Jess Buxton

Appeared in BioNews 397

The UK Government's chief scientific adviser has expressed his support for proposals to use animal eggs in the creation of human embryonic stem cells (ES cells) for research purposes. Sir David King said last week that such work should be allowed under tight regulations, adding that it was crucial for scientists to gain the public's trust and approval to avoid a 'GM (genetically modified) food-style' backlash. Sir David was speaking at a public seminar organised by the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, which is currently conducting an inquiry into the issues surrounding research on embryos containing both human and animal material.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 is currently under review, and a Government White Paper published last December proposed that the creation of 'hybrid' and 'chimera' embryos should be banned by the new law. A draft Bill is expected in April, 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 'hollowed-out' 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 has deferred making a policy decision until a public consultation has been carried out.

The embryos in the proposals would be at least 99.9 per cent human, with a tiny amount of cow or rabbit DNA contributed by the animal cells' mitochondria - tiny structures that generate the cell's energy. The scientists want to use such embryos, dubbed cytoplasmic hybrid or 'cybrids', to create ES cell lines from patients affected by conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson's disease and motor neuron disease. These cells could be used to shed light on how the illnesses develop, and to test out new treatments.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said last month that although there were difficult issues, the Government was 'not dead set against' the creation of hybrid embryos for research. The Department of Health said in a statement that 'the proposal in the white paper is that a draft bill will clarify the extent to which regulation will apply to the creation of human-animal hybrids', adding 'we are proposing that these embryos should be prohibited but with a regulation-making power to make exceptions to that prohibition'.

However, according to the Times newspaper, while ministers will not yet endorse the research in full, they are no longer seeking legislation to prohibit it, fearing that such a ban will damage British science. Government sources have reportedly said that the Department of Health failed to fully understand the importance of hybrid embryos or the work that scientists wanted to do, prompting a rethink.

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).

Chief adviser backs human-animal embryos opposed by ministers
The Guardian | 28 February 2007
The Daily Telegraph | 02 March 2007
Scientists triumph in battle over ban on hybrid embryos
The Times | 27 February 2007


13 June 2016 - by Dr Jane Currie 
Scientists have used CRISPR to create part-pig, part-human embryos in an attempt to grow human organs for transplant...
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...

19 February 2007 - by Khadija Ibrahim 
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...
28 January 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
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...
15 January 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
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...
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...

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