Saturday, May 17, 2008

‘Scientific bigots’ oppose the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

Cranmer does not read The Tablet for all manner of obvious reasons, but a communicant has drawn his attention to an article which warns of the unreliability of the of claims made for the research benefits of human-animal hybrid embryos, which is undoubtedly one of the most repugnant elements in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

This Bill is presently making its inexorable way onto the statute books, with the support of many of those Roman Catholics who had featured in the media for their strident opposition, except for Ruth Kelly, who absented herself from the Chamber when the vote was taken. Courage of conviction was never one of her fortes. It is a good job she is not contending against Robert Mugabe, in whose regime people of real conviction are suffering appalling persecution.

The article, ‘Beware false promises’, explains how the public have been duped by both government and scientists over the supposed benefits of embryonic stem cell research and specifically the creation of human/animal hybrids. We are told by scientists and politicians that research using human-animal hybrids ‘is vital to produce cures for Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases’. The Bill ‘has the potential to either help the development of new treatments, or (if blocked) set us back decades’ with ‘a real risk that life-saving treatments could be lost’.

And Prime Minister Brown himself has caught something of this miracle cure as he assures us that this Bill will lead to treatments which ‘can save and improve the lives of thousands and over time millions of people’. Indeed, he considers the Bill a 'moral endeavour'.

The Tablet continues:

Dazzled by the promises, the public stands by in awe of the science. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority allows everything: it has thus far not ultimately rejected a single embryo-research-related application. Pro-embryo-research scientists have a ready mouthpiece in politicians and journalists beguiled by the claims. How could anyone oppose these miraculous cures? What we have seen in the determined efforts of some of the bill's more politically motivated protagonists is a confusion of the issues and a classic sleight of hand - in two separate ways. Both need exposing if people of conscience are to form honestly informed views.

The first is tacitly to allow the exciting advances in adult stem-cell treatments to illustrate the far more speculative therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells; to use the former to justify the latter. Thus Gordon Brown: "With adult stem cells already being used as treatments for conditions including leukaemia, severe combined immunodeficiency, and heart disease, scientists are already close to the breakthroughs that will allow embryonic stem cells to be used to treat a much wider range of conditions. Medical researchers now believe that stem-cell therapy has the potential to change dramatically the treatment of many other human afflictions: including not only Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's but perhaps also cancer, spinal-cord injuries and muscle damage."

Another example was in last Saturday's edition of The Times, a 12-page supplement (sponsored by the Wellcome Trust and - hardly by coincidence - appearing 48 hours before the debate in Parliament), relentlessly trumpeting stem-cell therapies and research with heart-warming stories of stem-cell cures and exciting reports of scientific progress.

Yet quietly submerged was the fact that every one of the stories concerning patients was about adult stem cells; and every report concerning embryonic stem cells was an experimental or animal study, or one speculating on their possible future potential. Not a single patient has been treated, even in trials, with embryonic stem cells: it would be too dangerous.

Medically, these heavily camouflaged truths are hardly surprising. The facts speak for themselves. Embryonic stem cells have an innate and invariable propensity to form tumours. They have genetic and chromosomal instabilities and abnormalities. Donor-derived cells carry the serious double hazards of cross-infection (prion diseases, for example) and tissue incompatibility (rejection). It is impossible to envisage their use in patients in the foreseeable future. Three months ago the highly reputable New England Journal of Medicine - previously a stout defender of cloning and embryonic stem-cell research - lamented: "Perhaps, not surprisingly, the technical difficulties and ethical complexities of this approach [cloned human embryonic stem cells] were always likely to render it impractical."

Conversely, this week has seen yet another positive clinical trial of adult stem cells (controlling damaging immune reactions after tissue transplants). The relative accessibility of adult (say, bone marrow) cells, their known safety, and the ability to use patients' own cells (avoiding rejection and cross-infection) all help explain why successful clinical trials in diseases as diverse as myocardial infarction, diabetes, limb ischaemia, stress incontinence and blindness from corneal disease have already been completed.

But there is a deeper biological aspect to adult stem cells' advantage as therapies. Our scientific approach to regenerative medicine has changed markedly in the last few years. The basic properties of embryonic stem cells - to generate limitless numbers of cells, and to turn into any kind of specialised cell - were considered clearly advantageous only when we thought of cell therapy as simply the replacement of lost cells. In fact, this simplistic notion applies in very few clinical circumstances. Tissue repair is infinitely more complex than this. Expecting implanted stem-cell-derived neurons, for example, to cure Alzheimer's disease would be a little like packing a few cogs and wheels and springs into the back of a broken clock and waiting for it to start working again.

Adult stem cells, present in most if not all specialised organs, have evolved as cells for repair: that is their purpose, and they successfully achieve this in many ways. But all this is barely relevant to the new bill. For here lies the second sleight of hand. The debate has, falsely, been turned into a referendum on all embryonic stem-cell research. What is proposed is actually "only" the licensing of various forms of mixed animal-human embryos as possible new sources of stem cells. But all the justifications for experiments using cybrids (embryos that are largely human but contain a minute quantity of animal material) are based on the falsehood that they are vital for developing embryonic stem-cell-based cures for dreadful diseases as argued by Lord Patel and Gordon Brown.

A broader perspective quickly reveals this as pure spin. The Daily Telegraph's Roger Highfield (generally supportive of embryo research) has forcefully pointed out that cell biologists who understand the complexity of proposed cybrid embryos are profoundly sceptical that they could ever prove remotely informative about human disease.

As James Sherley, from the Program in Regenerative Biology and Cancer, Boston, has said: "Huge volumes of ... basic cellular and molecular biology must be ignored to justify [cybrid] research. Not a single new experiment is necessary to know with certainty that human-animal cloning will not provide faithful models for human-human cloning."

I strongly suspect that it is this false equation - defeat of the bill represents a defeat for all embryo research - that has dog-whistled the British scientific establishment in support of the bill. In truth, few serious embryonic stem-cell scientists will speak in support of cybrid embryos specifically on the basis of their intrinsic potential for therapeutic research; most (obviously) will speak in favour of embryo research in general. (Although even among these, a proportion defends the bill more on the principle that scientists should not have limits set on their work than on the specifics of embryonic stem-cell science.)

And the suggestion that there is "no alternative" to cybrids is not even close to the truth. Rather, clinical scientists around the world have been extraordinarily excited by the emergence in the last year of a new technique for producing so-called "inducible pluripotent stem cells" (IPSCs). Certain genes are artificially activated to make adult cells "de-differentiate", or turn their clock back. IPSCs are virtually identical to embryonic stem cells; and this is a far, far easier technique than human cloning (let alone cybrid cloning). And involves no embryos. IPSCs have already successfully treated mouse disease models, and there are reports that IPSCs have been made from patients with various diseases.

In other words, this approach has quickly and clearly overtaken the cybrid idea. And IPSCs are 100 per cent human. Scientists all over the world are turning to this approach; even British stem-cell scientists say it spells the end of human-embryo research. Nowhere else is the rather bizarre alternative of making cybrids - let alone hybrids - generating any serious interest.
Yet, when three Catholic Cabinet members stood up for their right to vote according to their conscience, there was a near-stampede of panicking scientists, journalists and politicians, railing against the Church. Why the flap? Surely there is little chance of the bill being defeated. Or is there?

The HFE bill is not a referendum on embryonic stem-cell research. Cybrid embryos are a small part of the bill - but a minuscule branch of stem-cell research; most likely a cul-de-sac of slight interest to the scientifically curious, but clinically irrelevant. The alternatives are considered by the overwhelming consensus to be superior. Defeating this part of the bill will have zero impact on the development of stem-cell therapies - and represent a triumph for common sense and for moral responsibility.


And Cranmer’s communicant asks: ‘Why don’t we find articles such as these in the mainstream press (and in other media)?’

Ah, but we do: here in The Times, and here in The Daily Telegraph. These are eloquent letters to which no fewer than 75 eminent scientists and professors are signatories. And these are not learned in random areas of expertise, but are all ‘actively involved in stem-cell research and regenerative medicine’. His Grace has not heard from 75 scientists in support of this Bill; simply from the media-savvy Professor Lord Winston who is routinely wheeled out by Labour whenever their plans are in need of a veneer of scientific credibility.

These eminent scientists insist that there are no miracle cures in the HFE Bill, and they talk of ‘false optimism’ and ‘unrealistic claims’ for unproven avenues of research. They state unequivocally that ‘there is no demonstrable scientific or medical case for insisting on creating, without any clear scientific precedent, a wide spectrum of human-non-human hybrid entities or “human admixed embryos”’. And so they question the ‘scientific validity of proposals to create such embryonic combinations currently before the UK Parliament’.

Referring to a committee of experts which considered the issue of chimeras, Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, has stated that: ‘on the question of full-blown hybrids being created between animal gametes and human gametes, there was a degree of repugnance, even among scientists on the committee… and it was felt - and I think is still felt - that this would be something where there was no clear scientific benefit’.

And the scientists and professors concluded that ‘these proposals have no justification and threaten seriously to undermine public confidence in legitimate forms of research’.

When people of faith speak out against this Bill, they are termed ‘religious bigots’. Cranmer has never heard the term ‘scientific bigot’, but these bold 75 must so be.

Cranmer shall be deep in prayer this week, for this evil Bill needs to be defeated, and the battle must first be won in the heavenlies.

11 Comments:

Anonymous John Hayward said...

If he hasn't already seen it, His Grace may also be interested in the report by BioCentre, the Centre for Bioethics & Public Policy, entitled The New Inter-Species Future? I recently summarised its main scientific reservations on the Jubilee Centre blog.

17 May 2008 at 16:22  
Blogger Homophobic Horse said...

Animal human hybrids.

Click here for my criticism.

17 May 2008 at 19:51  
Anonymous Sir Henry Morgan said...

Regulars already know my views on this topic.

Your Grace: the picture at the top of this item disturbs me more than the pictures at the bottom of the Zimbabwe thread immediately below.

Yes, I know one an imaginary creation, and the other is the real thing ... but at least the real thing is a human picture about - sometimes appalling - real human behaviour.

Come on everyone, we just know, don't we, that if they are allowed to create hybrids then one day one of the lunatics will actually grow one of them.

17 May 2008 at 19:55  
Anonymous British Patriot said...

This is being pushed by the global elite, there is money to be made and they want the rights.

You can see them here fitting the evidence to the Policy on Iraq.

Over 1 Million dead but so what, there's money to be made in Oil.

The arabs are right,
We are the Great Satan.

http://www.livevideo.com/video/rclark23/1E8F485B900C44498E90AD06E7088446/-war-criminal-ex-mi6-head-dea.aspx

17 May 2008 at 20:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're a f***ing protestant bigot Cranmer

17 May 2008 at 21:14  
Anonymous British Patriot said...

Hey did you see that Bishop, the Govt is now sending People round the Blogs, stirring up trouble as a pretext towards having controls put on Blogging.

I bet it was Gordon Brown himself.

18 May 2008 at 02:02  
Blogger don said...

I hope that a non-religious approach to this vastly misunderstood issue will appeal to some.

The difference between adult stem cells (ASC) and embryonic stem cells (ESC) explains why ESC researchers have been failing for ten years and why they will continue fail to find even one therapy in the next decade to match what ASC are already doing. There are just two simple facts:

1—ASC are in the body to provide Medical Self Repair.
The reason that ASC researchers are improving thousands of lives for almost every disease and medical condition known to man, is that it is relatively easy to train an ASC to do what it was born to do: REPAIR. And when they start to repair what they were sent to repair, they stay there and reproduce, thus generating more repair.

2---ESC are in the body to make babies.
The reason ESC researchers always fail is that they cannot accept that ESC are "obsessive" in their desire to become babies. Good ESC researchers can sometimes, with great difficulty and at a very high cost in dollars and time, train an ESC to do what he or she wants it to do, such as improve the symptoms of Parkinson's. But no one can control that cell's impossible-to-stop desire to make a baby. ESC do not stay there to continue to repair and reproduce---there is no off-switch on an ESC, it cannot be controlled, it wanders off the target and the too-frequent result is deadly tumors.

Now YOU know more about stem cells than 90% of Yanks and Brits, including doctors, all in just two minutes!

Don Margolis
International Center for
Adult Stem Cell Education
www.adultstemcelleducation.com

18 May 2008 at 05:32  
Blogger don said...

I hope that a non-religious approach to this vastly misunderstood issue will appeal to some, so here goes, especially after an excellent article such as this one.

The difference between adult stem cells (ASC) and embryonic stem cells (ESC) explains why ESC researchers have been failing for ten years and why they will continue fail to find even one therapy in the next decade to match what ASC are already doing. There are just two simple facts:

1—ASC are in the body to provide Medical Self Repair.
The reason that ASC researchers are improving thousands of lives for almost every disease and medical condition known to man, is that it is relatively easy to train an ASC to do what it was born to do: REPAIR. And when they start to repair what they were sent to repair, they stay there and reproduce, thus generating more repair.

2---ESC are in the body to make babies.
The reason ESC researchers always fail is that they cannot accept that ESC are "obsessive" in their desire to become babies. Good ESC researchers can sometimes, with great difficulty and at a very high cost in dollars and time, train an ESC to do what he or she wants it to do, such as improve the symptoms of Parkinson's. But no one can control that cell's impossible-to-stop desire to make a baby. ESC do not stay there to continue to repair and reproduce---there is no off-switch on an ESC, so it cannot be controlled and the too-frequent result is deadly tumors.

Now YOU know more about stem cells than 90% of Yanks and Brits, including doctors, all in just two minutes!

Don Margolis
International Center for
Adult Stem Cell Education
www.adultstemcelleducation.com

18 May 2008 at 05:36  
Blogger ultramontane grumpy old catholic said...

Your Grace

Sir Henry Morgan reckons that if scientists are allowed to create human hybrids, one day some maniac will actually grow one.

Quite!

Listen to Baroness Deech who spoke on one of the BBCs R4 programmes recently in the 'Embryo Wars'(You can probably find the programme on listen again - 19th April)

Baroness Deech was starry eyed, looking to a future where embryos could be kept in the laboratory from conception to birth, relieving the ‘mother’ from and messy side effect regarding pregnancy, such as ruining her figure. It would be so safe, no effects from passive smoking or drinking or drugs.

She said that as a woman who has borne children, her figure is not what she would like it to be. But embryos can now be kept alive in 14 days until they have to be killed by law. And also babies can survive outside the womb at say 23 weeks. So, she said, there is a gap of 21 weeks or so to bridge. Science could be able to bridge that gap by providing a tank with nutrients for which child can grow and the mother could collect the baby at end of term.

Baroness Deech even used the word 'mother' without any sense of irony. But how could you have a mother which doesn’t bear the child?

Baroness Deech went on to say, that this would have to be carefully considered and debated in Parliament, blah blah blah. But there would be no guesses as to what the decisions would be – if it can be done – let’s do it!!

What a brave new world we could be to live in!

Note your Grace that apologists for the creation admix ‘chimera’ embryos assure us that it would be forbidden to implant the admix creation in a woman’s womb. But there’s nothing against putting it into a ‘Deech tank’ full of tubes and nutrients and bringing it to term..

So when in the future the wife asks her husband are you a man or a mouse, the answer might be in the future ‘A bit of both actually’

18 May 2008 at 10:27  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trust the good old beeb to be right off the money. This morning, their news bulletins were reporting that 'Catholics' were opposed to the bill, no mention of other religions and the a-religious who also find this repugnant, or the scientists who have pointed out it is completely pie-in-the-sky. Also, apparently, it will 'save millions of lives'. Hmm. Unlike the aims of pro-lifers, who use 'emotive' language in scientific debate!

18 May 2008 at 14:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

21/10/08
This week Politicians will attempt to discuss the embriology bill and abortion amid claims that important issues may be shelved due to time restrictions.On this basis it once agin brought my attention to find out more, further personal research led me to your site which added to my own already skeptical view on the relevance of scientific exploration into the creation of hybrid cells and their relevancy to probable cures for alhtzimers. Do we really live in a democratic state or one led by spin appealing to our human nature to comply for the apparent greater good?We need to better inform the wider public on such matters to allow fair opinions to be made and ethial issues raised on a fair playing field in the house of commons!!!

22 October 2008 at 10:14  

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