After six months’ sifting of evidence, the Lockhart Committee unanimously agreed to 54 recommendations – the most important being to keep a strong legal prohibition against human cloning, but to allow somatic cell nuclear transfer and embryo research under strict controls in the laboratory. One of the less important Lockhart recommendations is to allow the use of animal eggs (rather than human eggs) for laboratory studies to improve the efficiency of obtaining human stem cells.

This would mean that doctors and scientists would not need to waste human egg cells, which are precious both ethically and in practice, while perfecting the techniques. Lockhart suggested this might be done under strict licence and regulation, with any products from the transfer destroyed in the lab.

The use of animal eggs in this way is permitted in most countries, because regulators know that any animal egg where human DNA replaced the nuclear DNA of the egg could not survive even if someone broke the law and put the cell in the womb. Similar techniques are used by infertility specialists in every country to test sperm to see if they have the capability to fertilise eggs.

Peter Fray

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