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Britain gets hybrid embryo go-ahead

September 5, 2007 By Michael Hopkin This article courtesy of Nature News.

Human-animal embryos given green light after public backing.

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Britain's embryology regulators have approved in principle the creation of embryos by injecting human DNA into empty animal egg cells. Researchers are hoping to use the technique to generate human stem cells without relying on a supply of donated human eggs.

Advocates of the technology have welcomed the decision by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to allow the technique, which they hope will aid the search for treatments of diseases such as Parkinson's and motor neurone disease.

The decision comes 10 months after two British research groups applied for permission to begin using the method. They are now expected to have their licences granted in November.

We can be hopeful that our understanding of diseases will be furthered as a result of today's decision.
Martin Rees
Royal Society president
"We applaud the HFEA for their decision and look forward to the decision from the licensing committee on our applications in November," says Stephen Minger of King's College London, one of the researchers who have applied to use the technique.

The embryos — called 'cybrid' embryos because they are not true hybrids but rather contain human DNA with cell cytoplasm from animals — could yield stem cells containing the donor DNA of patients with a range of diseases.

Minger argues that the use of empty animal eggs is currently the only ethical way to generate these stem cells, because the technique requires many egg cells that would otherwise have to be gathered from human egg donations.

"Sound decision"

Royal Society president Martin Rees called the move "a sound decision based on the views gathered from both scientists and the wider public", adding that "we can be hopeful that our understanding of diseases will be furthered as a result of today's decision".

The HFEA's move follows a public consultation in which 61% of the public were in favour of the procedure "if it may help to understand some diseases, for example Parkinson's and motor neurone disease". Of the roughly 2,000 respondents, 25% were against the technology on ethical grounds.

Parliamentary science watchdogs have also staunchly backed the technology, after the government threatened in December last year to ban all work with hybrid embryos. In May, however, the government performed a U-turn and now looks set to legislate in favour of a limited range of hybrid-embryo research techniques.

The ruling cements Britain's reputation as a pioneer of embryological research. Australia, Canada and the United States have all banned the creation of hybrid embryos, whereas politicians in other countries have not yet specifically addressed the issue.

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