UK to allow scientists to create human-animal embryos for research purposes



Fri, Sep 07, 2007 - Page 6

Britain's fertility regulator decided in principle on Wednesday to allow scientists to create human-animal hybrid embryos for research purposes, as experts downplayed ethical concerns.

The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) gave the go-ahead to controversial plans to create "cytoplasmic" embryos, which merge human cells with eggs from animals such as cattle or rabbits.

Scientists argue such research could pave the way for therapies for diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Applications to proceed with such work from researchers at Newcastle University in northeast England and King's College London can now be appraised by a license committee in November.

An HFEA consultation out earlier this week found people were "at ease" with the proposals once the possible implications had been explained.

An HFEA spokeswoman accepted public opinion was divided and said their decision was a tough one to make.

"This is not a total green light for hybrid research, but recognition that this area of research can, with caution and careful scrutiny, be permitted," she said.

The use and destruction of embryos in research is a highly sensitive subject in the US, for political and religious reasons.

US President George W. Bush has twice vetoed a bill seeking to allow federal funds for stem cell research as it would involve human embryo destruction.

"It is a positive outcome not just for our work but for the progress of British science in general and we hope that this will lead to new technologies to benefit everyone," said Newcastle University's Doctor Lyle Armstrong.

He said earlier: "It does seem a little abhorrent at first analysis, but you have to understand we are using very, very little information from the cow in order to do this reprogramming idea.

"It's not our intention to create any bizarre cow-human hybrid, we want to use those cells to understand how to make human stem cells better."

Doctor Stephen Minger of King's College London, said it was gratifying that the HFEA had listened to the scientific community.

But not everyone was so pleased. Some "pro-life" and religious groups disagree with creating embryos with the intent to destroy them later.