Regulators decided on Wednesday to permit in principle the creation of hybrid human-animal embryos for research into illnesses such as Parkinson’s, Motor Neuron Disease and Alzheimer’s.
The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) agreed to allow a specific kind of inter-species hybrid, where human DNA is injected into a hollowed out animal egg cell, a spokeswoman for the regulator said.
The resulting “cytoplastic hybrid” embryo, or “cybrid” would be 99.9 percent human and 0.1 percent animal.
Two teams of British scientists have applied to the HFEA for permission to create such hybrids to overcome a shortage of donated human eggs.
Their applications have been on hold for nearly a year, awaiting the outcome of a public consultation by the HFEA.
The researchers hope to use the hybrid embryos to create stem cells to help find new medical treatments for degenerative diseases.
The HFEA will now consider the two research applications in the coming months.
Support for disease research
Opponents say mixing even a tiny amount of human genetic material with that of an animal is unnatural and wrong.
The HFEA regulators deferred a decision on other types of human-animal embryos, such as “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.
This was because there was no evidence that scientists are at present considering using such hybrids in research.
The regulators considered findings from their 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.