Memorandum from 50
Submission from the Biotechnology and
Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
Thank you for your letter about proposals for
regulation of research using chimera and hybrid embryos.
1. Is it within the remit of BBSRC to support
projects looking to create human-animal chimera and hybrid embryos?
In our view the creation of human/animal hybrid
embryos is of such sensitivity that it will only be justifiable
for essential research into human disease, as is the case for
creation of human embryos by nuclear replacement or the derivation
of stem cell lines from spare IVF embryos. Thus it is more likely
to be within the remit of the MRC.
Even if the technology was permitted without
such restrictions we see little likelihood of proposals to create
hybrid or chimera embryos being submitted to BBSRC. To be considered,
such an application would need to primarily address basic rather
than biomedical objectives, demonstrate that these could not be
addressed in any other way (eg in animal models or using existing
cell lines), and that they were of such importance that they justified
such an approach. Whilst it may be possible to hypothesise such
a proposal, in reality the likely researchers all operate in a
sufficiently biomedical context to make it easier and more appropriate
to frame a proposal in terms of its medical relevance.
2. Is it within the remit of BBSRC to support
basic research resulting from the creation of human-animal chimera
and hybrid embryos, for example into biology of resultant stem
BBSRC supports some research using human embryonic
stem cell lines, and is a minor partner in the UK stem cell bank
for the purpose of providing access to such lines to the BBSRC
community. Our policy is to make sure that scientists who are
working on animal stem cells can move their research forward into
human stem cells where appropriate and that there is no "black
hole" between funders.
3. Where is the line drawn between the research
supported by BBSRC and the basic research supported by MRC in
The BBSRC supports research aimed at understanding
how stem cells work in normal development and at establishing
generic technologies for controlling stem cells in tissue engineering.
As such, we have funded stem cell work for nearly 20 years. Work
which mainly addresses human disease directly or its treatment
is not in the BBSRC remit and would fall to the MRC. The balance
will shift over time and it is clear that with the possibility
of therapeutic intervention using stem cells, that the balance
is shifting towards the MRC. BBSRC regards its past funding of
stem cells a success as it has enabled the science to move more
towards human health and hence MRC (and Wellcome Trust) funding.
Use of animal stem cells to study say, farm animals, is within
BBSRC remit. Joint funding may also occur.
We realise that this is not a rigid boundary
but we consider this much preferable to a situation in which a
gap might exist, and because it facilitates a continuity in the
transfer of basic research through to medical research. Moreover,
there is a well established and effective process for agreeing
the appropriate council for borderline proposals. This operates
within a general framework laid down by RCUK. Officers in the
appropriate sections of each council are available to advise applicants
before submission and these people maintain a close working relationship
through their joint participation in the various cross-council
stem cell coordination activities.