HFEA reaches decision on cybrid embryo research

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The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) yesterday reached a decision to allow the possible use of “cybrid” embryos for research.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority yesterday decided that research using ‘cybrid’ embryos should not be prevented, and that individual research projects involving the use of these embryos would be considered by the HFEA license committee on a case by case basis.

Click here the link to read the HFEA’s statement on the decision.

Julia Ambler, Head of Grants at the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, attended the meeting, which followed a three month consultation that included engaging the general public in dialogue about hybrid embryo research. The consultation also incorporated the views of the scientific community, including the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, and a review of the scientific literature to date.

Dr Marita Pohlschmidt, Director of Research at Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, said:

The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign very much welcomes the decision of the HFEA, because it provides the legal framework and controls for scientists to use “cybrid” embryos as an efficient tool to explore approaches to stem cell therapy to its full extend.

The results of the consultation are available on the HFEA website: Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority


What is a cybrid embryo and how will its use be controlled?

A “cybrid” or cytoplasmic hybrid embryo is created by taking the nucleus containing the genetic material of a human cell and inserting it into an animal egg from which the genetic material has been removed. Generally, cow or rabbit eggs would be used to create the cybrid embryo.

The use of cybrid embryos will be strictly controlled by the HFEA license committee and these embryos will not be allowed to develop past 14 days.

To find out more about cybrid embryos please visit the HFEA website: HFEA Consultation – Hybrids and Chimera

Why is the use of cybrid embryos necessary?

Very early embryos (less than 14 days) can be used as a source of embryonic stem cells which have a number of potential uses. These stem cells could potentially be used to obtain information on the development of certain diseases providing important knowledge that may later help in the development of therapies. They can also be used to screen potential drugs and researchers believe that embryonic stem cells have the potential to be differentiated into specialised cell types such as blood or nerve cells that could be used to replace a patient’s own damaged tissue.

Prior to the HFEA’s decision, embryos for this type of research were created using donated human eggs and eggs that were not suitable for IVF and would otherwise have been discarded. However, there is a shortage of donor eggs which limits the amount of research that can be done on embryonic stem cells. The use of animal eggs to create the cybrid embryos provides a means to overcome this problem.

Will research involving cybrid embryos help people with muscular dystrophies?

Embryonic stem cell research is still at a very early stage so we don’t know yet what impact this might have for people with muscle disease. We do recognise, however, that research involving cybrid embryos has great potential for the development of novel technologies and treatments.

Does Muscular Dystrophy Campaign currently support embryonic stem cell research?

Muscular Dystrophy Campaign does not currently fund any research involving embryonic stem cells. We are, however, funding three research projects using muscle stem cells. These projects are being run by Dr J. Morgan at Imperial College and Dr P. Zammit at Kings College London. You can learn more about this research in current grants.

Muscle stem cells, or satellite cells, are responsible for the repair and replacement of muscle fibres that are lost as a result of injury or dystrophy. Satellite cells are located on muscle fibres, in a niche between the cell membrane and the connective tissue surrounding the fibre. Like embryonic stem cells, these cells may have the potential to form the basis for a development of a treatment for muscle disease.

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