Britain allows animal-human hybrid embryos
LONDON — Britain cleared the way on Thursday for scientists to conduct experiments using hybrid animal-human embryos after the government bowed to protests from researchers who said a proposed ban could hurt their work.
Scientists want to use the hybrid embryos to find cures for illnesses such as Parkinson's, stroke and Alzheimer's.
The Department of Health said it would accept a recommendation from Parliament's Science and Technology Committee that interspecies embryos could be created for research.
In December, the government had proposed a ban on creating the hybrid embryos over what it called "considerable public unease," but with the door left open for later regulations that could allow such research under licence.
Britain is one of the leading states for stem-cell research, attracting scientists from round the world with a rules that allow embryo studies within strict guidelines. The proposed ban was seen as putting that at risk.
The change in the government's position comes after sustained pressure from scientists and politicians who argued that the hybrid embryos would help overcome a shortage of human eggs for research.
Researchers currently rely on human eggs left over from fertility treatments, but these are in short supply.
The hybrid embryos, which would be destroyed within 14 days, would be more than 99-per-cent human but would contain a small amount of animal DNA.
Scientists say that any imposition of a ban would see research in other countries, such as China and Canada, overtake Britain.
Scientists in China, the United States and Canada have already carried out similar work, the same technique used to create Dolly the sheep, the world's first cloned mammal.
But U.S. President George W. Bush has vetoed an increase in federal funding for stem-cell research, saying U.S. taxpayers who object to such work should not have to pay for it.
The British government's draft legislation as written still bars the creation of inter-species embryos, with the government leaving it to a committee of MPs due to scrutinize the bill to find the best way of allowing the research.