Blair ‘Not Against’ Embryo Research

The Government is “not dead set against” creating embryos that are part animal-part human, the Prime Minister has said. A White Paper published last month proposes outlawing the creation of such embryos, at least initially.

{mosimage}Scientists believe that refusing to grant permission for the creation of the embryos will jeopardise future research into serious human diseases.

Tony Blair said there were “difficult” issues surrounding creating the embryos, which are more than 99% human but have a small animal component. But he added: “I’m sure that research that’s really going to save lives and improve the quality of life will be able to go forward.” He said the existing law was going to be amended “to allow us to have some flexibility.” He continued: “We are not dead set against it, in fact the opposite. If there’s research that’s going to help people then we want to see it go forward.”

On Thursday, five leading scientists made an emotional plea to the Government and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). The HFEA, which regulates embryo research, will meet on Wednesday to discuss its policy on the issue and applications for licences to create the embryos.

The researchers want to extract stem cells from embryos that can be studied for their potential to treat human diseases. By using embryos derived from animal eggs, in this case cow or rabbit eggs, they hope to avoid the ethical problems of tampering with human life.

The research involves transferring nuclei containing DNA from human cells, such as skin cells, to cows’ eggs that have had almost all their genetic information removed. A certain amount of animal DNA remains in the mitochondria – tiny rod like power plants that sit outside the nucleus and supply energy. Stem cells, which have the potential to become different kinds of tissue, are then grown in the laboratory.

These stem cells contain even less of the animal genetic material, making them practically 100% human, the scientists say. They argue that crucial research into illnesses such as motor neurone disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s depends on a supply of eggs. At present, scientists have to rely on human eggs left over from fertility treatment, but they are in short supply and are not always good quality.