Stem Cell Research

Slaves to consent?

Nature reports that in response to analysis done by bioethicist Robert Streiffer (and published in the Hastings Center Report), Stanford University may withdraw the use for research of several of its publicly funded stem cell lines because of concerns about consent. In 2001 President Bush decreed that only lines already in existence would be eligible for federal funding – 21 lines were subsequently approved by the NIH.

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Reproductive science: is there something we’re missing?

Thirty
years after the first test-tube baby, Nature
asks various experts for their views on what the next thirty years of
reproductive medicine will bring
.
Some of the more startling predictions are:

  • No more infertility, with both children and 100-year-olds able to have children
  • Embryos created from stem cells, increasing the ease of embryo research and genetic engineering of children
  • … with the resulting greater availability of embryos making it easier to create cloned humans
  • Artificial wombs, enabling babies to develop outside the mother’s body
  • … which, some worry, could become compulsory as an alternative to abortion, or to avoid premature birth or fetal alcohol syndrome
  • ‘Genetic cassettes’ implanted in embryos to counteract the effects of inherited diseases
  • Increase in litigation following evidence that IVF babies may later suffer adverse effects from the environment in which they were grown as embryos

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HFEA and Regulating Reproduction:Triumph for Rationality and Victory for Secular Ethics

MPs voted on Tuesday on two of the most controversial issues surrounding reproduction- the provision of IVF treatment, and the availability of legal abortion. Under the new laws, IVF clinics will no longer have a legal requirement to consider the need for a father, but will instead be asked to ensure provision of ‘supportive parenting’, removing any barrier to single women and lesbian couples conceiving through the treatment. In a separate amendment, MPs were asked to consider the legal time limit on abortion, which currently stands at 24 weeks. Given the option to reduce this limit to 22, 20 or even just 12 weeks, MPs voted by a comfortable majority to stick with the status quo. 

The UK is now at the forefront of rational reform to legislation governing reproduction and research. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill has now approved the creation of human admixed embryos, with important implications for scientific advance.

Blog on Admixed Embryos
Savulescu, J., The Case for Creating Human -Non Human Cell Lines, Bioethics Forum
Human Enhancement papers, media and other resources for free download

It has also reformed the regulation of reproduction in a thoroughly sensible manner.

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The New Law on Admixed Embryos and the Genetic Heritage of the Living Kingdom

Scientists in the US recently created a fluorescent human embryo. This was achieved by inserting a gene for green fluorescent protein. This shows that it is possible to successfully transfer a gene from a non-human animal to a human and for that gene to express its function. Other animal studies have shown that such gene transfer is both safe and effective, creating super animals, such as mice with colour-vision derived from human genes transferred.

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The Ethics of ‘Human Admixed Embryos’: Concerns and Responses

By Loane Skene, Professor of Law, University of Melbourne and Julian Savulescu,  Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics and Director Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) Bill, currently before the UK Parliament, will, if passed, permit HFEA to license the creation for research of embryos that combine human and animal genetic material (called, in the Bill, ‘human admixed embryos’). These embryos include cybrids which are formed by inserting the nucleus of a human body cell into an animal egg that has had its nucleus removed. Cybrids would produce embryonic stem cells that are 99.9% human. The Bill would also permit other types of embryos to be formed from human and animal genetic material that would be up to half animal. This post explains why scientists want to create human admixed embryos. It then outlines some ethical concerns about the creation of these embryos and responses that may be made to those concerns.

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Looking for Biopolitical Trouble

Researchers at Cornell university have
developed a genetically modified human embryo expressing a green fluorescent
protein
. This is a technology already demonstrated
in animals (and plants), including monkeys. But the news that it had been done to a
human embryo has stirred up reactions worrying about designer babies. Are we
already in a brave new world of designer babies? And how should we handle the biopolitical debate?

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The Apeman and the Scotsman: the slippery slope to humanzees

In the Scotsman this week there is an interview with a scientist who
has claimed that a loophole in the draft UK Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Bill is likely to lead to the creation of hybrid human-apes
or “humanzees”.

In essence this argument is a slippery slope objection to the proposed
changes in the powers of the UK regulatory authority for embryo and
fertilisation research.

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