HFEA grants the first therapeutic cloning licence for research

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has granted the first licence to create human embryonic stem cells using cell nuclear transfer – a technique also known as therapeutic cloning. The licence will be held by Newcastle Centre for Life. Stem cells created under this licence will be used for research purposes only.

Suzi Leather, HFEA Chair says:

"After careful consideration of all the scientific, ethical, legal and medical aspects of the project, the HFEA Licence Committee agreed to grant an initial one year research licence to the Newcastle Centre for Life. This is an important area of research and a responsible use of technology. The HFEA is there to make sure any research involving human embryos is scrutinised and properly regulated."

This licence allows scientists to create human embryos by inserting the nuclei from human skin or stem cells into human eggs. In the UK, research on human embryos is only permitted for certain purposes. The purpose of this research is to increase knowledge about the development of embryos and enable this knowledge to be applied in developing treatments for serious disease. This research is preliminary, it is not aimed at specific illnesses, but is the foundation for further development in the treatment of serious disease.

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Notes to editors

The cloning technique, cell nuclear replacement (CNR) involves removing the nucleus of a human egg cell and replacing it with the nucleus from a human body cell, such as a skin cell. The egg is then artificially stimulated. This causes the egg to divide and behave in a similar way to a standard embryo fertilised by sperm.

Research on human embryos is only allowed for certain purposes. Under the initial Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990) the HFEA could only grant licences if it was satisfied the use of human embryos was for one of the following purposes:

  • To promote advances in the treatment of infertility
  • To increase knowledge about the causes of congenital disease
  • To increase knowledge about the causes of miscarriages
  • To develop more effective techniques of contraception
  • To develop methods for detecting the presence of gene or chromosome abnormalities

In 2001 new regulations (The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001) were passed, adding three further purposes for research to the list above:

  • Increasing knowledge about the development of embryos
  • Increasing knowledge about serious disease
  • Enabling any such knowledge to be applied in developing treatments for serious disease

Human reproductive cloning is illegal in the UK. As a result of the Human Reproductive Cloning Act (2001) nobody in the UK is allowed to use cell nuclear replacement, or any other technique, to create a child.

The HFEA was set up in August 1991 as part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. The HFEA's principal tasks are to license and monitor clinics that carry out in vitro fertilisation (IVF), donor insemination (DI) and human embryo research. The HFEA also regulates the storage of gametes (eggs and sperm) and embryos.

For further information please contact the HFEA press office.

Page last updated: 12 March 2009

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