Britain Set to Approve Human/Animal Hybrid Clones



By Hilary White

  LONDON, September 4, 2007 ( - The UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the government cloning and stem cell research regulator, published its public consultation on the creation of human/animal hybrid clones, in which it claimed the majority of people were "at ease" with the idea. It is expected to rule tomorrow on the proposal to create cytoplasmic hybrid cloned embryos from animal ova and human DNA.

  The HFEA had its consultation period open for a year, during which time it was subject to intense lobbying by research organisations determined to carry cloning and stem cell research forward to what many say is the next inevitable stage. Cytoplasmic hybrids are those that would be created by inserting the nucleus of a human cell into the ovum of an animal such as a cow after the removal of the ovum’s nucleus.

  This was described by the HFEA and in the British press as a procedure that would create an embryo that was "99 per cent" human. It was nearly always described in the media as a way of obtaining cures for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

  The HFEA’s public consultation found that initial reservations about the research were eventually silenced. "When further factual information was provided and further discussion took place, the majority of participants became more at ease with the idea," the HFEA’s report says.

  The HFEA’s own commissioned poll of more than 2,000 adults showed that the public has accepted the idea of creating cloned human beings for research and even human/animal cloned hybrids with the proviso that they will not be allowed to live and that they would be used for medical research. This proviso is considered "ethical" according to current standards, because the cloned hybrids will be killed before reaching 14 days old and their stem cells "harvested."

  The wording of the questionnaire reveals the confusion that has been generated through the media’s use of inaccurate and misleading terminology. The Telegraph reports that if asked whether they agreed with the creation of embryos containing mostly human and a small amount of animal material, 48 per cent of respondents were opposed and 34 per cent were in favour. But when the phrase "if it may help to understand diseases such as Parkinson’s and motor neurone disease" was added, support rose to 61 per cent in favour.

  Human/animal hybrids are proposed as the solution for the problem researchers face in cloning human beings to acquire stem cells. The preferred method of cloning, somatic cell nuclear transfer, requires enormous numbers of healthy ova for the numerous attempts required to successfully create one cloned human being.

  The process for acquiring ova is difficult and can be dangerous for women. Even if large numbers of women could be persuaded to donate their ova for research it is doubtful the result would come close to filling the projected need for the large scale cloning experiments envisaged by most researchers.

  The group of researchers at Kings College London and the North East England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) were "optimistic" that the HFEA would grant permission.

  Read related coverage:

English Scientists Ask Permission to Create Human/Cow Clones

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