The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the governmental body that regulates fertility treatments in the U.K., looks set to approve the use of hybrid embryos for stem cell research at a meeting later on today.
Earlier this week, the HFEA published its public consultation on the subject. This revealed that, although many people found the idea of human-animal hybrid embryos to be repugnant, most approved of it when they better understood the reasons for it.
Researchers can create hybrid embryos by the transferring nuclei from human cells into animal egg cells from which the nucleus has been removed. This technique, called nuclear transfer, is very similar to the one used to clone Dolly the sheep, the main difference being that Dolly was cloned using a cell and a nucleus from the same species.
Creating hybrid embryos would bypass the shortage in human eggs, and will enable researchers to use stem cells from the embryos to develop treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
If the HFEA approves the use of hybrid embryos, researchers’ proposals will then be considered individually. Ian Wilmut, who led the team that cloned Dolly, is waiting for the HFEA’s decision so that he can apply to create hybrid embryos to investigate motor neuron disease.