News archive 2008
Hybrid embryo research is approved18 Jan 2008, PR 16/08
The application by scientists from King's College London to begin work on creating Britain’s first hybrid animal embryos has been accepted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) allowing them to fuse human cells with animal eggs.
A statement from the HFEA read: ‘An HFEA licence committee has considered two applications, from King's College London and Newcastle University, to carry out research using human-animal cytoplasmic hybrid embryos. The HFEA licence committee determined that the two applications satisfied all the requirements of the law and has now offered one-year research licences to the two applicants, subject to a series of detailed conditions in each case.’
Dr Stephen Minger, from the team at King’s, says: ‘I am pleased that the HFEA has finally after a year and a half realised the importance that the work that we and the group from Newcastle for which we have been given a licence. I am grateful to the scientific community, patient organisations and disease charities for all of the support we have received over the past 18 months. Their backing has been invaluable. This shows that the scientific community can be involved in and influence Government policy.’
Dr Stephen Minger, Director of the King’s Stem Cell Biology Laboratory along with colleagues Professor Chris Shaw, of the Institute of Psychiatry, Senior Lecturer in Neurology and Neurogenetics, and Clive Ballard, Professor in Biomolecular Sciences of the Wolfson Centre for Age-Related Diseases at King’s, will now be able to carry out work using hybrid embryos that will boost research into some of the most debilitating and untreatable neurological diseases including Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Spinal Muscular Atrophy
The team plan to derive human embryonic stem cells using adult cells from patients with genetic forms of neurodegenerative disorders. Instead of using human eggs, the researchers will remove the nuclei from animal eggs and replace them with cells from the patients, thus creating cloned stem cell lines that contain the same genetic mutation that results in these neurological disorders.
Scientists currently use human eggs that have failed to fertilise in IVF procedures for this technique, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). However, the efficiency of SCNT is currently very low and therefore creating early-stage ‘chimeric' embryos will allow researchers to improve the technique without using human eggs.
Controversy surrounding the decision heightened last November when the ruling was delayed due to concerns about obtaining consent from the donors of human DNA. However there was strong support from the Government when an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was defeated in the House of Lords on Monday by a majority of 172 and clearance by the HFEA licence committee has meant that this groundbreaking research can now go ahead.
Chris Shaw says: ‘This is very good news and an important step forward. I think the outcome reflects improved communication between scientists and the public, and shows that the HFEA and the Government have listened to that dialogue.’
The Licence Committee minutes can be downloaded from: http://www.hfea.gov.uk/en/1640.html
Notes to editors
King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher 2007) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has 19,300 students from more than 130 countries, and 5,000 employees. King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. The College is in the top group of UK universities for research earnings and has an annual income of approximately £400 million. An investment of £500 million has been made in the redevelopment of its estate.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, social sciences, the health sciences, natural sciences and engineering, and has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe and is home to five Medical Research Council Centres – more than any other university.
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