UK parliament backs hybrid embryo research

The UK Parliament has voted to allow the creation of embryos containing both human and animal genetic material for research purposes. As apart of a two-date debate on amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, members of parliament voted 342 to 163 against an amendment to outlaw so-called hybrid or admixed embryos.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown also gave his backing to the use of these embryos in research. Writing in a column in the UK daily newspaper, the Guardian, Mr Brown said that these embryos would bring to an end "the critical limiting factor in stem cell research: the lack of human eggs from which to create embryos and collect stem cells". They would also bring new cures and treatments to millions of people.

"The doctors and scientists I speak to are committed to what they see as an inherently moral endeavour that can save and improve the lives of thousands and, over time, millions of people," writes the UK Prime Minister.

The creation of several types of admixed embryos are permitted under the Bill:

  • human-animal hybrids that are created using a human egg and the sperm of an animal, or an animal egg and a human sperm;
  • cytoplasmic hybrids or cybrids that are created by techniques used in cloning, using human cells and animal eggs. Cybrids would be mostly human except for the presence of animal mitochondria;
  • human transgenic embryos where animal DNA is introduced into one or more cells of the embryo;
  • human-animal chimeras where human embryos are altered by the addition of one or more cells from an animal.

The Bill states that these embryos will be allowed only where they are used for clear scientific purposes and it will be illegal to keep them for longer than 14 days. It will also be illegal to implant them into women or into any animals.

Speaking during the parliamentary debate, Edward Leigh, a Conservative MP and an opponent of the Bill, said that there was no large-scale body of evidence to suggest that research using hybrid embryos can cure any diseases. He referred to a letter written by a group of scientists which warned that such research could damage public confidence and support for stem cell research.

"The public have been misled - cruelly, in many cases - into thinking that such research could lead to early and useful cures by exaggeration, misinformation and hyperbole," he argued.

However, Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North, who is also a scientist, rejected such claims. "The reason scientists carry out research is that they have a hunch, an idea, perhaps on the basis of earlier work, which makes them say 'I wonder what would happen if...'. That is how science advances," he said.

"Scientists are fallible- they are not always on the right lines - but gosh, if the world did not have science we would not have the medical cures that we have, or, indeed, any understanding of climate change, about which many Members spout without knowing much about the science," added Dr Gibson.

For more information about the Bill, please visit:
http://www.parliament.uk/

Copyright ©European Communities, 2008
Neither the Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, nor any person acting on its behalf, is responsible for the use, which might be made of the attached information. The attached information is drawn from the Community R&D Information Service (CORDIS). The CORDIS services are carried on the CORDIS Host in Luxembourg - http://cordis.europa.eu. Access to CORDIS is currently available free-of-charge.

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