Royal Society supports research on human-animal hybrid embryos

2 August 2007

The Royal Society’s response to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s (HFEA) consultation on the ethical and social implications of creating human-animal hybrids in research sets out strong support for a policy of allowing this research.

The Society believes that research involving the transfer of a human nucleus into an animal egg will lead to important new knowledge about cell nuclear replacement (CNR) technology and, if it were to prove possible to produce embryonic stem cells by this route, would increase understanding of how to programme these cells to develop into different tissue types. The response points out that allowing such research would not only overcome some of the problems of low availability of human eggs but also, if animal eggs were sourced from abattoir material, could contribute to a reduction in the number of animals used specifically for research.

Research on other types of hybrid embryos, such as transgenic and chimaeric embryos, might also yield benefits, according to the Royal Society. Examples of applications include studies on human gene function, and creating animal models of human disease. In answer to the question of whether hybrid embryos created by CNR might be likely to develop if placed into a woman, the Royal Society notes that it is impossible to answer this question without carrying out an illegal experiment, but that experience to date with other inter-specific hybrid embryos suggests that development beyond the very earliest stages of gestation would be unlikely.

While pointing out some potential problems that could limit the usefulness of hybrid embryos in research, the Royal Society favours a regulatory approach that would broadly allow all types of human-animal hybrid or chimaeric embryos to be created for research purposes under licence by the statutory regulatory body (currently the HFEA).