More oversight needed for animals containing human material

25 July 2011

The Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) has called for more sensitive oversight of some forms of research involving animals containing human material (ACHM).
A new AMS report has said that, whilst most such research (for example, using genetically modified mice that contain a human gene or genes to study human diseases) does not raise new ethical or regulatory concerns, emerging applications might ‘approach ethical or regulatory boundaries’.  
It is suggested that whilst most forms of research need no additional regulatory oversight, a national expert body should be established to advise the Home Office on potentially sensitive types of ACHM research, such as any biological modifications that could mimic human-like brain functions or external characteristics ‘perceived as uniquely human’, and any form of fertilisation involving human eggs or sperm in an animal. Some extreme forms of research might be prohibited. However, the report also notes the potential value of ACHM research in general, not only to improve human health but also potentially to reduce the use of general animal testing.

Comment: These are sensible proposals, recognising the difference between standard methods of biomedical research using animals and those which present new issues with respect to public acceptability. Maintaining a good system of oversight is a key element in maintaining public trust in research that raises potential ethical concerns. The report also recognises the need for regulatory bodies to work together to avoid gaps, overlaps or inconsistencies in regulation’. 

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