Creation of “Cybrids” greenlighted
London – British scientists could create the country’s first interspecies embryos by the end of the year, after the Government’s fertility watchdog approved the work in principle. Two teams seeking to fuse human DNA with empty cow eggs to study diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are expected to be granted licences in November, now that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has agreed to look favourably on their applications. The work to make cytoplasmic hybrid or “cybrid” embryos, which are 99.9 per cent human in genetic terms, should then begin immediately at King’s College London and the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, unless it is blocked by a legal challenge.
The positive verdict follows a public consultation, which in early September reported 61 per cent approval for the creation of cybrid embryos to improve scientific understanding of diseases. The research, however, is still opposed by some religious and antigenetic engineering groups, who are likely to challenge the HFEA’s legal authority to approve it. Stephen Minger, director of the Stem Cell Biology Laboratory at King’s, who leads one of the teams, said: “It is gratifying to see that the HFEA has listened to the broader scientific and bioethical community.” The ruling comes as scientists await the Government’s latest plans for legislation on interspecies embryos. Ministers have already backed down from a proposal to ban them altogether after pressure from scientists, and the draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill to be included in the Queen’s Speech exempts cybrids while outlawing true hybrids. This, however, was condemned as excessive in July by a scrutiny committee of MPs and peers, which recommended allowing all such research subject to licensing by the HFEA.