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Friday, May 18, 2007

Looks Like Hank McCoy (X-Men's The Beast) may move from the fictional to reality

From the UK's The Northern Echo:

Surprise U-turn on hybrid embryos

A GOVERNMENT U-turn cleared the way last night for North-East scientists to pioneer treatments for cancer and Alzheimer's disease using human-animal embryos.

In a surprise move, ministers opted to drop plans to ban the controversial technique of creating part-human embryos for medical research.

They acted after mounting pressure from scientists, charities, patient groups and MPs, who insisted the ban would harm British science.

advertisementThe decision clears the way for a team from the North-East England Stem Cell Institute (Nesci), who are working on the next generation of medicines for cancer and other debilitating diseases.

They are one of two teams in the UK applying to mix animal and human genetic material to produce stem cells for research into breast cancer and multiple sclerosis, as well as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Professor John Burn, head of Nesci's Institute of Human Genetics, which includes scientists from the universities of Durham and Newcastle, said: "This change of heart is very good news for the country, and particularly for the North-East.

"It will accelerate our research and give our scientists a lead."

He added: "I'm delighted that common sense has prevailed and I applaud the Government ministers for accepting the power of our argument and changing their minds."

Many scientists believe stem cells - which can develop into different types of cell - promise cures for hundreds of diseases.

However, the cells are in short supply, and some experts want to create more by adding human genetic material to rabbit or cow eggs.

The Human Tissues and Embryos Bill unveiled yesterday would allow the creation of "cytoplasmic" hybrid embryos that are 99.9 per cent human and 0.1 per cent animal and would also permit human embryos to be altered by the introduction of animal DNA.

However, it would still be illegal to allow embryos to grow for more than 14 days or implant them into a womb.

Prof Burn said: "It feels a bit uncomfortable when you see pictures of franken-bunnies or hear talk about embryos. These are not little babies - we are talking about pools of cells in a dish. They will never be put into humans."

Some religious and campaign groups reacted angrily to the Bill.

Dr David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, said: "Do not be fooled by the claim that this is "just research". Once we start down the path to GM (genetically-modified) babies, it will become very hard to turn back."

Josephine Quintaville, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: "This is a highly controversial and terrifying proposal, which has little justification in science and even less in ethics."

However, Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Phil Willis, who will chair the committee scrutinising the Bill, said: "People have every right to be concerned, but you have to look at the scientific purpose. This research could help thousands of people with incurable diseases."

Prof Burn's application to produce hybrid embryos will now be considered by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, with a decision on the principle of the work expected in September.

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