18 January 2008
The UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has issued one-year licences permitting the creation of chimeric human-animal embryos for research purposes to two centres at King's College London and Newcastle University (see press release). Both centres wish to create embryonic stem cells for medical research purposes; creating hybrids by using enucleated animal egg cells fused with a human cell nucleus provides a better source of (near) human embryos than using surplus embryos from in vitro fertilization treatment.
The HFEA postponed a decision on these applications in order to carry out a public consultation exercise on the issue (see previous news), but in September 2007 they concluded that there was there was no fundamental barrier to such cytoplasmic hybrid research as it was ‘in principle, necessary and desirable in both scientific and ethical terms’ (see previous news) and the public were ‘at ease’ with the concept. However, opponents of such research contend that it is both ethically unacceptable, and also unnecessary in the light of alternative approaches to the creation of human stem cells.