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Britain goes for hybrid embryos and savior siblings

Hybrids, chimeras, and designer babies. No, this is not science fiction but science as we know it today.

I’m referring to the majority vote by the British House of Commons regarding the amendment of human fertilization and embryology bill last Monday. So what’s the big deal?

Cytoplasmic hybrid embryos

For purposes of research, the bill allows the development of human-animal hybrid or chimera embryos. Cytoplasmic hybrid embryos are made from a nucleus of a human cell inserted into an empty animal (e.g. a cow or a rabbit) egg cell. The resulting cell is 99.9% genetically human. These cells are to be used as carriers of DNA from diseased patients which can then be cultured, studied, and tested in the lab.

True hybrid embryos

The bill will also eventually allow making true hybrid embryos, embryos which are produced when an animal egg is fertilized by a human sperm – and vice versa – resulting in a 50-50 genetic make up.

All hybrid embryos will be used solely in vitro -in the lab -and never to be implanted. Furthermore, these embryos should be destroyed after 14 days, to avoid fears of creating a “Frankenstein”.

Savior siblings

The bill will also allow parents to have “custom-made babies” which are produced through in vitro fertilization for the purpose of becoming an umbilical donor to an ill sibling. Through embryonic screening techniques, the “perfect match” embryo is chosen, implanted and delivered to full term.

The majority vote came as a surprise. Many people actually believed the voting will lead to a ban, not to approval. Understandably, pro-life and religious are not too happy about the voting results. However, a major factor that might have led to the pro-science decision is the cross-party efforts of British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown of the Labor Party and the Conservative Leader, David Cameron, who are both fathers of young children with disabilities, according the Sydney Morning Herald.

It is science’s biggest hope that through stem cell and embryonic research, many disabling diseases can be cured.

Are we ready for this? Can science deliver? So what do you think?


Sydney Morning Herald, 20 May 2008

MSNBC, 19 May 2008

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