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Animal egg stem cell research plans in jeopardy

7 January 2007
Appeared in BioNews 390

UK scientists hoping to use animal eggs in human embryonic stem cell (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 Britain, is due to meet this week to consider applications from two teams who want to use rabbit or cow eggs to overcome the shortage of human eggs for such research. However, following the publication of the White Paper last month, the scientists fear that the authority will bow to Government pressure and refuse to license the work.

The teams, based at King's College London and the University of Newcastle, want to use enucleated animal eggs - those from which nucleus, containing the vast majority of an egg's genetic material, has been removed. A tiny amount of animal DNA remains in the egg, contained within its mitochondria, the sausage-shaped structures that generate a cell's energy. The scientists hope to replace the animal egg cell nucleus with one from a human cell. The resulting embryos would then be grown in the laboratory for a few days and used to obtain stem cells, from which new cell-lines could be created. In this way, they hope to create ES cell-lines from people with serious illnesses, to study how the affected cells develop, test new drug treatments and investigate new cell-based therapies.

Dr Stephen Minger, who heads a team at King's College working on Parkinson's disease and other conditions, said that he had been told the HFEA was unlikely to grant his application. 'The Government appears to have taken a very negative view of human-animal eggs and this seems to have influenced the HFEA decision on whether or not to grant licences', he told the Times newspaper, adding 'it is really short-sighted and I am confused as to how the Government has come to this position'.

Dr Lyle Armstrong, of the University of Newcastle, is leading a team that has submitted a proposal to use animal cells in research into using ES cells to potentially grow replacement tissues for treating conditions such as diabetes and spinal paralysis.

A third team led by Professor Ian Wilmut, of the University of Edinburgh, and Professor Chris Shaw, of King's, wants to use animal cells to create ES cell-lines from patients with motor neurone disease, although it has yet to apply for a licence. Professor Shaw said that to shut such research down is 'a real affront to patients who are desperate for therapy'. He added that 'of all these diseases, none are really treatable. This is a very serious turning point in terms of science and medicine'. Professor Wilmut said that the proposed research was 'all within the current Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. There is no reason to stop it'.

A spokesman for the HFEA said: 'We need to decide whether the law prohibits this research, whether it falls under our remit at all, and then we can look at whether we have a fundamental view on this type of research'. The law currently makes no reference to embryos that contain both animal and human material. However, the White Paper 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, which included a public consultation.

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).

Hybrid embryo ban 'would cost patients' lives'
The Daily Telegraph |  5 January 2007
Hybrid embryo work 'under threat''
BBC News Online |  5 January 2007
Medicine faces ban on rabbit-human embryos
The Times |  5 January 2007
Vital study in jeopardy: scientists
The Guardian |  5 January 2007
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 Dr John Gillott 
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee's report, 'Government Proposals for the Regulation of Hybrid and Chimera Embryos', is its response to two related events: firstly the UK Government's intention to outlaw the creation of such entities, announced in December 2006 in its White Paper (1), and secondly the...
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...
5 March 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The UK Government's chief scientific adviser has expressed his support for proposals to use animal eggs in the creation of human embryonic stem (ES) cells for research purposes. Sir David King said last week that such work should be allowed under tight regulations, adding that it...
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...
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...
9 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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