UK set to greenlight chimera research
Public support for the work
The UK's fertility regulator is expected to give its seal of approval to research on human-animal hybrids in the UK. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) published its consultation on the proposed draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill yesterday, in which it said most people consulted were at ease with the creation of hybrid embryos.
The consultation began back in May this year. The aim was to clarify any contentious areas, and seek expert advice on definitions of the terminology involved (gamete, hybrid, embryo). It also wanted suggestions as to how research into hybrids would be regulated and overseen.
The Bill paves the way for the creation of embryos composed of 99.9 per cent human, 0.1 per cent animal DNA. It prohibits "true" human-animal hybrids, but allows for so-called chimeras and cytoplasmic hybrid embryos. Any hybrid embryos would be allowed to divide for 14 days before being destroyed, and would not be allowed to be implanted into a womb.
The hope is that by using hybrid embryos, researchers can hone the techniques they need for research that requires human embryos, such as growing viable lines of stem cells.
The proposed legislation, which also covers sex selection of embryos, is proving highly controversial. Critics suggest that the creation of hybrid embryos creates confusion about the boundaries and definition of humanity. Others are concerned about the moral implications of research on any embryos at all: that the proposed research subjects are part animal, part human just compounds an already untenable position.
However, the HFEA's statement released yesterday said that although plenty of people have raised concerns, their fears have been easy to allay: "When further factual information was provided and further discussion took place, the majority of participants became more at ease with the idea," the report says.
Last month, the parliamentary committee set up to examine the Bill gave its approval, recommending that the government relax the current ban on creating hybrid embryos. It recommended a free vote on the Bill, and said that the HFEA and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) should regulate the research.
The Royal Society, which has been part of a campaign supporting the Bill, issued a statement welcoming the HFEA's report. President Martin Rees is quoted as saying: "It is heartening that the wider public agree with the scientific community that human-animal embryos offer the potential to better understand incurable illnesses such as Parkinson's and Motor Neurone Disease." ®