Winston blames red tape for move to US

The fertility doctor and television celebrity Robert Winston is moving a key part of his research on organ transplants to America because of government red-tape that he says has ruined one of his experiments.

Lord Winston said yesterday that his experiments on genetically modified pigs were part of an area of research that could eventually prove more useful for NHS patients than the sequencing of the human genome, yet the work was being thwarted by bureaucracy over animal welfare.

Speaking at the British Association's Science Festival in York, Lord Winston said that it took him 13 months to obtain a simple research licence from the Home Office for the pig experiment, which had eventually to be abandoned because of an obscure European directive covering the movement of farm animals.

The aim of the research was to modify the genes of a male pig's sperm cells so that the animals could then take part in a breeding programme to produce "transgenic" pigs with humanised organs which could be transplanted into patients in need of them.

Lord Winston said: "One of the biggest problems in Britain is the regulatory framework. It's been very difficult to get this sort of animal work going. It took about 13 months to get an animal licence to simply inject the testes of six pigs. That, I think, is not really very acceptable.

"We were then refused permission to mate the animals so we couldn't demonstrate that we had actually got the appropriate gene target in the right place and that it was expressing in the offspring. That was very disappointing."

Lord Winston said the regulatory framework covering animal experiments in Britain was so limiting that it was easier for scientists like him to go abroad, especially to the United States where there was money and interest as well as less restrictive laws. He said: "What I fear is that this work is bound to go on elsewhere. Certainly there is increasing interest in America. We will certainly apply to the US National Institutes of Health to continue this work in Missouri."

He said in his experiment, the six pigs were moved from a farm to a laboratory where they underwent an operation to alter their sperm cells. But when they were moved back to the farm they were not allowed to breed because of a ruling by the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

He said: "It does seem rather blinkered not to allow work that causes absolutely no suffering to the animal and simply allows them a bit of pleasure when they mate.

"The ability to generate genetically modified animals is infinitely more important and has greater impact scientifically than, for example, the sequencing of the human genome.

"The Home Office is increasingly nervous about what is perceived about public concern about animal experimentation. In my view it's not been a well handled subject.

"For too long scientists have been rather intimidated by what is perceived as a very aggressive and violent reaction by a relatively small number of people who are firmly convinced that any kind of experimentation on animals is wrong."

Lord Winston believes transgenic organs could end waiting lists for heart and other transplants.

A regular complaint from scientists

It has frequently been said by scientists working in Britain that this country has the toughest set of regulations in the world governing animal experiments. Lord Winston's story highlights some of the difficulties they face.

Even the smallest "procedure" on an animal – such as taking a blood sample – requires researchers to apply for an individual research licence from the Home Office. Each procedure is considered in isolation and an institute cannot carry out experiments wholesale even if it has a site licence for animal research.

In the past it has taken many months for these licences to be granted. As one scientist wrote in The Times Higher Education Supplement: "Nobody appears to be able to stand up to this regulatory excess. I suspect that by making animal experimentation as long-winded and tortuous as possible, the hope is to make it difficult to do any real work."

Nevertheless, the number of animal experiments conducted in Britain has reached its highest level in 15 years with more than 3 million "procedures" performed in 2006 – a 4 per cent increase on 2005.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Sport
football
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk