More than 150 animal-human hybrid embryos have been created by scientists working in British laboratories over the past three years.
Critics have questioned the need for such controversial research warning that it “discredits us as a country” because it cannot be ethically justified.
The creation of hybrid embryos was legalised by the 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Scientists claim the process could be used to develop embryonic stem cell treatments.
These are different from adult stem cell treatments which do not involve the destruction of human embryos.
Since the Act’s introduction, 155 ‘admixed’ embryos, containing both human and animal genetic material, have been created.
The scale of the research was revealed last week in response to a parliamentry question by Lord Alton.
The cross-bench Peer said: “At every stage the justification from scientists has been: if only you allow us to do this, we will find cures for every illness known to mankind. This is emotional blackmail.
“Of the 80 treatments and cures which have come about from stem cells, all have come from adult stem cells – not embryonic ones. On moral and ethical grounds this fails; and on scientific and medical ones too.”
His concerns were echoed by Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, who said: “I am aghast that this is going on and we didn’t know anything about it.
“Why have they kept this a secret? If they are proud of what they are doing, why do we need to ask Parliamentary questions for this to come to light?
“The problem with many scientists is that they want to do things because they want to experiment. That is not a good enough rationale.”
There are currently three laboratories in the UK which are licensed to carry out such research, but they have all stopped creating animal-human hybrids due to a lack of funding.
The 2008 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act legalised the creation of a variety of hybrids. This includes the creation of ‘cybrids’ in which a human nucleus is implanted into an animal cell.
And it also legalised the creation of ‘chimeras’ in which human cells are mixed with animal embryos.