Human-Animal Hybrid Experimentation in the U.K. is Halted

Scientists in the U.K. have been forced to stop their research with human-animal hybrid experimentation because of a lack of research funds.

Less than a year after the controversial laboratory techniques were legalized in the U.K., funding agencies are now refusing to finance the research of human-animal hybrids. Although Britain has enjoyed the status of a world leader in this field, it is now feared that existing research projects may be brought to a final and permanent end within weeks.

The experimentation has proven to be highly controversial from an ethical perspective, since it fuses human cells with nonhuman mammalian eggs in a laboratory process which thereby creates a new species and a new living creature which is simultaneously both yet neither human and nonhuman. Numerous ethical debates over the procedure are still raging, and may or may not be a direct cause of the current funding drought. No specific explanation was given for the lack of funds, other than “competition” from other projects.

Two of the three license holders who are legally permitted to create hybrid embryos in the U.K. have been denied research funds, namely, Dr. Stephen Minger of King’s College London and Dr. Lyle Armstrong of the Center for Life at Newcastle University. The third license holder, Professor Justin St. John of Warwick University, is still in the process of preparing a grant proposal.

According to Dr. Minger, whose work has not yet started, even a year after his license was issued, “The problem has been a lack of funding. We haven’t been able to buy equipment, £80,000 to £90,000 worth. We put in a grant proposal last year but it wasn’t successful and we’re dead in the water. We’re discussing whether it is worth the time to re-submit our application. People reviewing grants may be looking at this from a completely different moral perspective, and how much that has influenced people’s perception about whether this should be funded, we don’t know.”

Dr. Armstrong of Newcastle University, who has created 278 hybrid embryos from human cells that were fused into cow ova, is now unable to continue working with the part-human, part-bovine embryos due to having been denied funding. According to Dr. Armstrong, “It seems a lot of effort for nothing. We are investigating other avenues to keep this work going but it is depressing that Britain seems happy to create a nice regulatory environment for this work but then not to provide money for it.”

The licenses were originally issued by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority through the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which allowed for the legal creation of animal-human hybrid embryos for stem cell research and which was passed after much debate by Parliament in May of 2008 and backed by both Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

Apparently, even though the British Parliament may have finished debating this topic, it would seem as though the rest of the populace has not.

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