Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

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 cell lines?

  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 this area?

  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.

January 2007

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