19 June 2007
ByAppeared in BioNews 412
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 woman or animal. 'There are no substantive ethical or moral reasons not to proceed with research on human embryos containing animal material under the same framework of regulatory control', said Professor Martin Bobrow, Chair of the Academy's Working Group who published their report, entitled 'Inter-species embryos', last week.
'Cybrid' animal-human embryos - a proposed technique to create human embryonic stem cells (ES) using 'hollowed-out' animal eggs - have been the focus of much discussion in the UK, following an earlier proposed ban on their use.
Last month, the Government published a draft version of the new Human Tissue and Embryos Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill reform the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, which establishes the current regulatory framework governing embryo research in the UK.
As it stands, the Bill will ban the creation of embryos that contain genetic material from both animals and humans, but the Department of Health has stated that it wants to make an exception for certain types of research, including cybrid embryos. True 'inter-species' hybrids, those created by the mixing of animal and human gametes, will remain prohibited by the new law. Although the Academy's Working Group agreed there was no immediate scientific need to create such embryos, 'given the speed of this field of research, the working group could not rule out the emergence of scientifically valid reasons in the future,' said Professor Bobrow.
The Joint Committee on the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill has published an E-consultation on their website inviting responses from the public, on inter-species embryos and other issues.