What does this work involve?
The work involves using animal eggs in research which aims to lead to the development of new therapies for debilitating human conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease and strokes. Animal eggs are much easier to obtain than human eggs and they effectively act as a ‘shell’ to carry human DNA.
The technique called nuclear transfer involves removing the nucleus of a cow egg - which contains most of the genetic information - and replacing it with human DNA.The egg is then encouraged to divide until it is a cluster of cells only a few days old.
Cells created in this way will only be used for research and will never be implanted in a woman.
Why is this work being done?
Scientists want to grow more stem cell lines which will be used to study specific diseases. However, a lot of eggs are required to produce a stem cell line. The main source of eggs is from consenting IVF patients but these are in short supply. Animal eggs are considered to be a viable alternative for research to understand more about how cells behave.
Where do the cow eggs come from?
The eggs are provided by abbatoirs from animals being used for food.
How is this research regulated?
In law, no work involving human gametes (sperm and eggs) is allowed unless it is approved by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The HFEA is advised by a dedicated panel of experts that reviews the social, ethical and legal aspects of the work of the HFEA. The HFEA also monitors and inspects the premises where such work is being carried out.
Dr Lyle Armstrong and Dr Majlinda Lako applied to the HFEA for a licence in November 2006 and after an extensive period of public consultation the licence was granted in January 2008.
For more information on the HFEA and the public consultation on hybrids www.hfea.gov.uk/en/1517.html "> HFEA website
Why are hybrid embryos being discussed by Parliament if the work is already being done?
Work involving hybrids has been going on for years under the authority of the HFEA. Human sperm performance is tested by many labs across the UK by assessing the ability to penetrate the shell of a hamster egg.
Dr Lyle Armstrong has a HFEA licence to work on hybrid embryos which was awarded under the law as it stands.
Many issues relating to embryo research, IVF and embryonic stem cell research are being discussed as the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is to go through Parliament next month.
Is there any possibility of creating a human that is part animal?
No. The animal egg only acts as a “shell” for the human DNA.
Hybrid embryos will not be implanted.
Any hybrid embryos created have to be destroyed by law, at 14 days.
published on: 1st April 2008