Regulating the Humanized

A UK panel puts forth guidelines for research that use experimental animals harboring human cells and tissues.

By | July 25, 2011

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS, JANET STEPHENS

As more and more labs report advances in creating experimental animals containing human material (ACHM), scientists and bioethicists in the United Kingdom have called upon the British government to consider the ethical ramifications of the potentially useful, but largely unregulated, research. Last week, the UK Academy of Medical Sciences released a government-sponsored report detailing exactly which type of ACHM's should be allowed and which shouldn't. The report outlines three types of ACHM that should be banned: animals that have human egg or sperm cells that could possibly mate to create an animal-human hybrid, non-human primates with enough functioning human neurons to impart human-like behavior, and embryos that develop more than 14 days and contain a mix of human and non-human primate cells.

"We are not proposing a new tier of regulation that will hold up important research," Robin Lovell-Badge, a developmental biologist at the Medical Research Council's National Institute for Medical Research in London and a member of the working group that drafted the report, told Nature. But, he continued, "we don't want scientists to cause problems for the future by overstepping the mark of what is publicly acceptable."

The report does allow for case-by-case consideration of other types of ACHM animals, such as mice with human livers that could provide a better model of drug metabolism. But studies using such experimental animals should be subject to an additional layer of scrutiny by expert panels set up specially to deal with ACHM research, according to the report.

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