Animal-human embryo research funding denied

All the British projects licensed to create animal-human embryos have been refused funding, it has now been revealed.

In January two of the three projects that had been granted licences were denied funding and a national newspaper reports today that the third has also failed to obtain a grant for the work.

The creation of animal-human embryos was legalised in 2008 and involves fusing human cells and animal eggs together to create an embryo from which to harvest stem cells.

Scientists wanting to carry out this work must apply to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) for a licence.

The Independent today reports that the third project licence holder has aborted his funding application, and that his licence, which expired in July, has not been renewed.

Supporters of the research have claimed that those in charge of the grant system may have acted on moral grounds.

But the funding bodies have strongly denied this, saying grants would be given out on the basis of “scientific excellence”.

Colin Miles, the head of systems biology at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, spelt out how scientists could access funding.

He said: “Having an HFEA licence to conduct a certain type of research does not automatically entitle researchers to funding.

“They must still compete for funding based on scientific excellence and strategic impact and the potential of the project to add significantly to the body of knowledge in that area.”

Professor Justin St John, who held an animal-human embryo licence, has now resigned his post at Warwick University and is reportedly moving to Australia to take up a research post there.

The other scientists who were granted licences no longer work in embryology in the UK.

In February a study cast doubt on whether research using animal-human embryos would ever lead to medical treatments.

A team of scientists in Massachusetts tried to produce stem cells from embryos created from animal and human material.

But when they put the nuclei of human cells into animal eggs they found that the mechanism needed to generate the stem cells didn’t work.

“Instead of turning on the right genes, it turns out the animal eggs actually turn them off,” said senior researcher Dr Robert Lanza.

Many 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, including using adult stem cells.

An opinion poll commissioned last year by The Christian Institute showed that over 60 per cent of the public are against the creation of animal-human embryos.

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