After what it calls "a series of detailed deliberative sessions", Britain's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority gave the go ahead Wednesday for the creation of embryos that would contain both human and animal cells. Such research is banned in Canada and President Bush has called for it to be forbidden in the US*. Here's more from HEFA's statement:
Having looked at all the evidence the Authority has decided that there is no fundamental reason to prevent cytoplasmic hybrid research. However, public opinion is very finely divided with people generally opposed to this research unless it is tightly regulated and it is likely to lead to scientific or medical advancements.
This is not a total green light for cytoplasmic hybrid research, but recognition that this area of research can, with caution and careful scrutiny, be permitted. Individual research teams should be able to undertake research projects involving the creation of cytoplasmic hybrid embryos if they can demonstrate, to the satisfaction of an HFEA licence committee, that their planned research project is both necessary and desirable. They must also meet the overall standards required by the HFEA for any embryo research.
There are already two applications for human animal chimeric embryo research before the regulatory panel. The applications include proposals to inject human DNA into the embryos of cows or rabbits, ultimately in an effort to produce stem cells.
The May 2007 AJOB Neuroscience featured a target article about the proposed human neuron mouse. This summer Hank Greely, one of the target article's authors, and Francoise Baylis, who authored a peer commentary, both appeared on a bioethics.net podcast to talk about the ethical implications of human-animal chimeras.
*Or, at least, we think he did. In the State of the Union Address, Mr. Bush used the term "hybrid" which isn't the same thing as a chimera. US Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) has proposed legislation to ban human animal chimeras (the bill actually uses the word) and apparently the President supports this legislation.