The British Government has bowed to pressure from MPs and scientists and will allow the use of inter-species embryos for research purposes.
Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo made the announcement yesterday as she set out ministers' official response to Parliamentary
criticism of the proposed the Human Tissue and Embryology (HTE) bill.
The development means that scientists in the UK will be able to apply for licences to make embryos with mixed human-animal genomes.
PharmaTimes had reported widespread fears that failure to overturn the proposed ban on such research would jeopardise the UK's leading role in stem cell research.
Professor Martin Bobro, Chair of the Academy of Medical Science's working party on inter-species embryos, said: "We welcome the pledge that provisions in the forthcoming legislation will explicitly permit research into all types of inter-species embryo, including cytoplasmic hybrid and true hybrid embryos, which could lead to new tools for understanding human embryonic stem cells and ultimately generate better treatments for disease."
"These measures, when accepted by parliament, will allow the UK to
capitalise on its strength in embryo and stem cell research and lead the world in exciting new technologies."
Professor Christopher Shaw, Professor of Neurology and Head Of Clinical Neuroscience, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, said: "This is excellent news. In its decision to regulate, rather than prohibit, the use of hybrid embryos in medical research the government has shown it has heard the voices of patients, scientists and the public."
"I hope that this work will lead to new insights into disease mechanisms and novel treatments. I anticipate that the hybrid controversy will fade as it did for heart transplantation."
U-turn on HFEA/HTA marriage
The other major development in yesterday's Government statement was the announcement of major U-turn over controversial plans in the bill to combine the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the Human Tissue Authority (HTA), to form a new quango RATE.
The proposed merger had provoked wide-spread and fierce criticism. Last night the British Medical Association's Head of Ethics and Science, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said: "The BMA is delighted that the Government has shown itself willing to listen to the serious concerns raised by the BMA and a wide range of other organisations saying that the roles of the HFEA and HTA are so different that it be would wrong to merge them."
A spokesperson from The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said: "This will still allow some efficiencies of both bodies working in harmony together, but will also allow the particular expertise of each to be retained."