September 4, 2007 / 10:36 PM / 13 years ago

Britain to decide on human-animal embryo research

LONDON (Reuters) - British regulators will decide on Wednesday whether to permit the creation of hybrid human-animal embryos for research into illnesses such as Parkinson’s, Motor Neurone Disease and Alzheimer’s.

Research in the controversial area has been on hold in Britain for nearly a year awaiting the outcome of a public consultation conducted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).

Two teams of scientists have applied to the HFEA for permission to inject human cell nuclei into hollowed-out cow egg cells to overcome a shortage of donated human eggs.

The resulting “cytoplastic hybrid” embryo, or “cybrid” would be 99.9 percent human and 0.1 percent animal.

The researchers hope to use the hybrid embryos to create stem cells to help find new medical treatments.

Opponents say mixing even a tiny amount of human genetic material with that of an animal is unnatural and wrong.

The HFEA will consider the two applications in November if it decides to approve in principle the creation of such hybrid embryos at a meeting on Wednesday.

The regulators will consider evidence from the consultation which included an opinion poll of more than 2,000 people.

The survey found people supported the creation of the kind of hybrid embryos proposed by the two research teams, but only when they were given a reason for the experiments.

A majority of those asked — 61 percent — gave their backing if the hybrids would help understand some diseases.

That support fell to 35 percent if the hybrids were being created purely for non-specific research.

The consultation also considered other types of human-animal embryos, including “true hybrids”, created by the fusion of a human sperm and an animal egg, and “human chimeras”, where human cells are injected into animal embryos.

But the consultation said it had not been possible to get a clear public opinion on these hybrids and suggested the HFEA deferred its decision on them.

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