New tires, please


The past two days have certainly been heated ones in Parliament.  MP’s have been voting on amendments proposed to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. On Monday, I attended an event held by the Progress Education Trust entitled Half-truths? The Science, Politics and Morality of Hybrid Embryos.

Three panellists debated the topic: John Burn, Clinical Geneticist at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Professor at Newcastle University, (in support of the embryos); Josephine Quintavalle, Co-founder of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, (against); and Brenda Almond, Emiritus Professor of Moral and Social Philosophy at the University of Hull, (explaining the ethics of the bill).

Several examples why “closing some roads" would harm science in the future were provided from the audience:

  • IVF was highly debated in the past and is now a common technique for many people.
  • Organ transplantation initially provoked much public scrutiny, but today many people benefit from this practice.
  • Not enough adult stem cells could be obtained to replace the amount of tissue harmed by a heart attack affecting 25% of the left ventricle.
  • Far more animal DNA would exist in a human with a heart valve replacement supplied from a cow or pig than these cells would have if grown into a heart valve.
  • Only the mitochondria (energy providers for the cells) in the cell contain any animal DNA.
  • This issue was about a small clump of cells in a dish that will be prevented from becoming a full organism at day 14.

Ms. Almond described old definitions and proposed these ‘embryos’ be called “pseudo embryos", as they are not true embryos. Ultimately, this debate was less about the embryos and more about the government telling scientists what they may or may not do.  Luckily MP’s recognised the need not to close the book on this topic. My favourite quote from the evening was from Prof. Burn comparing stem cells with replacing tires on his car: “ I don’t want retreads (adult stem cells), I want new ones (embryonic stem cells)!"