Scientists in Newcastle have created the UK’s first part-animal part-human embryos, even though MPs have not yet voted to make the research lawful.
The embryos were created by inserting human DNA into cows’ eggs. The embryos did not survive beyond three days, according to reports.
The scientists acted under a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. The creation of such embryos is a grey area of the law.
The Government wants to make it explicitly lawful in its highly-controversial embryos Bill. But many MPs oppose the move. The House of Commons has yet to vote on the matter.
Critics say the scientists should have waited for MPs to make a democratic decision before proceeding.
The creation of the animal-human embryos was announced on a BBC television news programme before results have been published in a peer-reviewed journal, provoking accusations of political rather than scientific motives.
Some scientists want to create animal-human embryos because they claim it will aid research into developing new medical treatments.
However, despite ten years of embryo research not a single clinical treatment has been developed. By contrast, research using adult stem cells – which does not destroy embryos – has resulted in over 70 treatments.
Leading stem cell scientists have rejected the path of embryonic stem cell research in favour of other routes they deem more likely to lead to new treatments.
But Professor John Burn of Newcastle University claimed: “Cells grown using animal eggs cannot be used to treat patients on safety grounds but they will help bring nearer the day when new stem cell therapies are available.”
He added: “I must stress this research is still very much a work in progress and it’s very exciting that Newcastle is at the forefront of this.”
Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE) said: “This is lamentable headline-grabbing, not proper scientific behaviour.”
A press release from CORE adds: “One suspects the motivation behind this revelation is more political than scientific.
“This nebulous research has been made public at a time when opposition to animal-human cloning gains momentum by the day, with a recent opinion poll commissioned by The Christian Institute in Newcastle showing over 60% of the public against this research.”