Academy commissions Ipsos MORI to explore public views on research using animals containing human material

The Academy of Medical Sciences has awarded a contract of £100,000 to a consortium led by Ipsos MORI to gather public views on research using animals containing human material. The results will feed into an independent report being prepared for Government by an expert working group, ensuring its recommendations are informed by the views of both scientists and members of the public.

The programme will involve members of the public in a series of reconvened workshops and interviews throughout May and June 2010. The programme will provide opportunities for participants to discuss and explore their aspirations and concerns about current and future issues related to the use of animals containing human material. It will identify areas of consensus, disagreement and uncertainty to help inform the final recommendations made by the Academy for public policy and research needs.

The creation and use of animals incorporating human material has a long-standing and successful research history and has made significant contributions in basic and translational science. However, the increasing power and sophistication of methods for introducing human material into animals, including new stem cell technologies, is likely to present new opportunities and significant regulatory and ethical challenges in the future. Discussion of this rapidly advancing area of science is needed to ensure that research into our understanding of diseases and their treatment can take place in the UK within a robust ethical and regulatory framework that the public is comfortable with.

The programme of public dialogue is supported by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ Sciencewise-ERC programme. The dialogue will be undertaken by the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute in partnership with Dialogue by Design and the British Science Association.

Chair of the Academy of Medical Sciences’ working group on animals containing human material, Professor Martin Bobrow CBE FRS FMedSci said, ‘The study is challenging us to think hard about the unique features which define us as human. We hope that the publics’ views will help shape our deliberations, and that this dialogue will reveal how different groups view the boundary between human and animal, and what informs their hopes and concerns around this research.’

Science and Innovation Minister Lord Drayson said, ‘These animals can play a key role in advancing new therapies for currently incurable diseases. But dialogue is vital for increasing our understanding of the public’s hopes and concerns about new technologies.

‘I particularly welcome the consortium approach at the heart of this project. By bringing together world-renowned research expertise with experienced dialogue practitioners and science communication professionals, the public has a real opportunity to make their voices heard and help shape future policy.’

A Department of Health Spokesperson said, ‘It is essential that there is dialogue with the public on this important area of work. It can be an emotive area of research but one that holds the potential to bring huge advances for healthcare in the future.

‘We have a long term commitment to research and are confident that the Academy's report will benefit greatly from this.’

Sarah Castell, Head of Qualitative Methods, Ipsos MORI said, ‘I am delighted that the Academy has chosen us carry out public dialogue on this important area. Ipsos MORI, Dialogue by Design and the British Science Association believe that this is the right methodology to give the Academy a really thoughtful and rounded view of public attitudes to this complex topic. We're looking forward to working with the public, as they navigate through the scientific evidence, meet with scientists and other experts, and explore different perspectives.’

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