Academy of Medical Sciences report backs hybrid embryo research

19 June 2007

The independent UK Academy of Medical Sciences has released a new report on inter-species embryos combining human and animal material (cytoplasmic hybrid, human transgenic or human chimeric embryos), which concludes that such research is vital for understanding and treating human disease. This follows the publication of the Government's draft Human Tissues and Embryos Bill and the launch of a public consultation into human-animal hybrid research by the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Inter-species embryos are said to include animal embryos containing human genetic material, or human embryos containing animal genetic material; chimeric animals are already produced for some forms of research, by introducing human DNA into laboratory animals such as mice. The report, which considers ethical and safety issues alongside the potential scientific benefits, calls for hybrid embryo research to be permitted under regulation in the UK, in order to further understanding of human development, somatic cell nuclear transfer (cloning) techniques and human embryonic stem (ES) cells.

Professor Martin Bobrow, who chaired the working group that produced the report, commented: “There are no substantive ethical or moral reasons not to proceed with research on human embryos containing animal material under the same framework of regulatory control” (see press release)

The Academy report concludes that current research on inter-species embryos can be appropriately regulated by existing mechanisms, but suggests that it will become necessary “to consider the appropriate conceptual and regulatory framework for transgenic and chimeric animals that contain significant amounts of human genetic material”. It notes that dual regulation of this area of research is undesirable, and welcomes the proposed new provisions of the HFE Act that should define which inter-species embryos fall within the remit of the HFEA and successor Regulatory Authority for Tissue and Embryos (RATE), and exclude those that fall within theremit of the Home Office animal research regulations. The report calls for proper channels of communication and consultation between those bodies regulating human embryos, human stem cells and animal research. It also supports continuation of current legal restrictions that prevent culture of potentially viable human embryos beyond 14 days, and prohibit implantation of hybrid embryos into either an animal or human woman.

The authors observe that: We do not consider that concern about slippery slopes is a good argument forprohibiting valuable research; it is a good argument for rigorous and ethically informed regulation”.

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