Pyramid Science

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Stem Cells

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (UK government) is expected to delay vital research. It will require all tissue used to create cloned embryonic stem cells to have the explicit consent of its donor, but since the tissue was donated before it became possible to clone embryos, retrospective consent would be impossible. Access to most of the tissue banks that are the repositories of the genes that contribute to serious disorders will be denied. Ministers have been warned that the proposed amendments will deny stem-cell scientists the use of valuable tissue banks for studying diseases like muscular dystrophy, Parkinson's and diabetes.

Key proposals in the Bill:
  • ensuring that all human embryos outside the body – whatever the process used in their creation - are subject to regulation
  • regulation of “inter-species” embryos created from a combination of human and animal genetic material for research
  • a ban on sex selection of offspring for non-medical reasons
  • retention of a duty to take account of the welfare of the child in providing fertility treatment, but removal of the reference to “the need for a father”
  • recognising same-sex couples as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs or embryos
  • altering the restrictions on the use of data collected by the regulator to make it easier to do follow-up research
  • increasing the scope of legitimate embryo research activities, subject to controls
Transcript of 3rd reading

Amendments to overturn the explicit consent of donors of previously donated tissue being necessary and allowing the use of any tissue from children even without parents' consent were due to be debated (21.01.08) in the House of Lords. Tabled by Lord Patel of Dunkeld.

The government is opposed to any change.

Lord Alton, who opposes parts of The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, argued that the twins’ experience demonstrated the need to strengthen a child’s right to know the identity of his or her biological parents.

The whole issue becomes a minefield even when all parties are sincere in 'doing the right thing'.

Risks When Donating Eggs

The new (amended) rules will affect the creation of cloned embryos by transferring a cell nucleus from a person with disease into a human or animal egg from which the DNA has been removed. This produces embryonic stem cells with the same genetic defects as the patient and can be used to study laboratory models of disease progression. It is then possible that new therapies could be developed and tested. There is no dispute about consent being required, only that retrospective consent is not a requirement for previously anonymously donated cells. But, will there be anonymous donations in the future? Any consent from an anonymous donor identifies that donor and so negates anonymity. This would create it's own minefield.

The cost of duplication if retrospective consent is a requirement would be very significant and cause delays in research. The loss of position in global research ratings is a prime consideration and the fact that children with genetic disease do not always survive to adulthood would result in tissue being lost if parents' consent remains a requirement.

Human-Rabbit/Cow Chimera Potential

It is a very complex mixture of problems. Those who manifest the disease need assurance that everything that can be done is being done, yet safety concerns must not be ignored. The cost element is a less important factor. Slipping in the global research rating position can result in financial grants being reduced or lost, but it does remain of prime concern that any forward movement does not introduce dangers to a global population.