Authorised researchers can work with unused embryos donated by parents following on in vitro fertilisation. The research is strictly supervised by the Agence de la biomédecine, which ensures that at each stage it is in compliance with legal and ethical rules. In case of failure to comply with the conditions of issue of the authorisation, it may suspend or withdraw the authorisation.
Research on embryos looks into the mechanisms of development of the human embryo until a few days after fertilisation. This is important work because, ultimately, it can make it possible to improve the chances of success of attempts at fertilisation in the context of medically assisted procreation, for example.
Embryonic stem cells come from the human embryo at the very first stage of its development. Their ability to generate all types of human cells carries a lot of hope. Such research will enable an advance in knowledge of human development and an understanding of the biological mechanisms that characterise these cells, but also to make progress from the perspective of new therapeutic approaches, such as regenerative medicine.
THE ROLE OF THE AGENCE DE LA BIOMÉDECINE
After consulting its Ethical Advisory Board, the Agence de la biomédecine is responsible for issuing permits for research protocols on human embryonic stem cells and embryos, as well as permits to conserve human embryos and human embryonic stem cells (hESC) and to import and export these cells for the purposes of research. It also monitors, evaluates and controls this research. In case of failure to comply with the conditions of issue, it may suspend or withdraw the authorisation.
In parallel, and in accordance with provisions stipulated in the French public health law, it has set up a national register of human embryos and human embryonic cells held by institutions and organisations for purposes of research. The distinction is made between lines of hESC, embryos and derived hESC lines. The Agence issues teams with a national identification code that will contribute to the traceability of these elements. Teams must refer to this in maintaining their own registers.
Finally, the bioethics law of 7 July 2011 modified the legal framework for research on embryos. On an exceptional basis, research on embryos, in particular to develop care for the benefit of the embryo and to improve the techniques of assisted reproductive technology, which does not harm the embryo, may be conducted before and after transfer for gestation. Research protocols are authorised by the Agence de la biomédecine for a period not exceeding 18 months renewable.