The British newspaper The Independent announced on 5th October 2009 that the 3 research projects involving the creation of hybrid from now on embryos are abandoned.
Not renewed licenses
In Great Britain, the conception of part human, part animal embryos is permitted provided that a license from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is obtained. We note that it deals with hybrid embryos and not chimeric embryos. We call chimeras beings which have cell populations from two different genetic origins, these cells having each a single genetic code (like the chimeras of chicken and quail). On the other hand the hybrids are conceived from two genetic codes of different species they possess in each of their cells (for instance, the mule coming from a donkey and a mare).
Two of the three licensed projects, conducted by Pr Stephen Minger from King’s College of London and Pr Lyle Armstrong from the University of Newcastle, had already come to a sudden end during the year. The third one has just expired after a public financing allowance was refused. Its license, which expired in July, was not renewed. The councils have estimated that these researches could not allow developing treatments against incurable diseases (like Parkinson’s disease) as it was first dangled.
Refusal of public financing
If the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, which came into effect in October 2009, has been specially amended to allow the creation of hybrids, the researches are not necessarily automatically financed by public authorities. “Obtaining a license from the HFEA to conduct a certain type a research does not automatically involved fund allowance. The researchers are in competition in order to obtain a financing which takes into account the scientific excellence, the strategic impact and the potential of the project in the significant progress of knowledge in this field“, explains Colin Miles, from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council. After having announced the termination of these programs, Pr Justin St John from the University of Warwick, who conducted one of the licensed projects, announced its departure for the University of Monash, in Australia. The latter did not explain the causes of its departure.
The supporters of the research on chimeras accused the councils in charge to review the financing files not to confine to scientific reasons but to have been influenced by moral reasons. Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, responded by denying the influence of ethical considerations on the final decisions of the financing council.