By Max Clarke

Regulation on experiments on animals containing human tissue should be better coordinated by a single, national expert body, Academy of Medical Sciences have today said in a report.

The controversial testing has divided opinion, with religious bodies and animal welfare groups condemning the practice whilst medical groups consider it vital to understand and treat human illness.

Professor Martin Bobrow CBE FRS FMedSci, chair of the Academy working group that produced the report said, “This is a complex research area and there should be ongoing dialogue between scientists, regulators and the wider public to address emerging issues. Our report recommends that the Home Office puts in place a national expert body, within the existing stringent system of animal research regulation, to provide specific advice on sensitive types of ACHM research.”

Experiments that were of concern to both the public and the scientific community focus on research studies involving modification of the animal brain that could potentially lead to human-like ‘cerebral’ function, experiments which might lead to fertilisation of human eggs or sperm in an animal; and modification of an animal to create characteristics perceived as uniquely human, such as facial shape, skin texture, or speech.

The working group considered evidence from experts in academia, government, industry, animal welfare groups and professional bodies. An independent public dialogue programme, led by Ipsos MORI was commissioned to provide insight into how ACHM research is viewed by the public. This revealed that the majority of participants supported ACHM research conducted to improve human health or to combat disease.

Professor Sir John Bell FRS HonFREng PMedSci, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences commented:

“This is an area of research with real potential to deliver scientific advances and bring new treatments to the clinic. Several different UK regulators are involved in regulation of this research, and it is vital to ensure they are closely coordinated. The current transposition of the EU Directive on the use of animals in research provides an important opportunity for the Home Office to act on the Academy’s recommendations, and put in place a national expert body to advise on ACHM. I believe that the UK scientific community is well placed to raise international awareness of these issues and provide leadership in this challenging area of biomedical science.

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