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UK research regulators reprieved

The United Kingdom’s pioneering regulator of human-embryo research, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), may not be abolished after all. Another UK regulator — the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) — has also been given a stay of execution.

Both the HFEA and the HTA were expected to be wound up, with their duties taken on by other bodies. However, the Department of Health announced today that, after an official consultation involving the agencies and various research groups, it would not be pursuing this. Instead, an independent review of both the HTA and the HFEA has been started, which will consider how they function and whether the two could be merged.

Many researchers were aghast when it was announced that the HFEA would be closed in an attempt to cull the ranks of semi-independent government agencies in 2010. Although some scientists claim the authority is a hindrance to their work, others cite it as an important example of how to effectively regulate cutting-edge science (see: UK embryo agency faces the axe).

The consultation found that 75% of those responding — mostly organizations rather than individuals — did not agree with the suggestion that the HFEA and HTA should have their duties transferred to other bodies. Only 8% agreed with this move.

“They were said to be trusted and respected by the regulated sectors and respondents believed this would be lost should a transfer of functions take place,” notes the government response to the consultation.


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