Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1100
WEDNESDAY 24 NOVEMBER 2004
Q1100 Mr Key: For an awful lot of
peopleand we have listened to a lot of them in this Committee,
both in Sweden and in Italyit is all about the potential
of development into a human life. Some people define an embryo
as that, the potential to develop into life. Does that come into
Professor Leese: It is a continuum;
it is one stage on a continuum; it is a developmental process.
Professor Edwards: You have two
problems: you have to define human life and I would not like to
do that either. Secondly, you can have a human life at birth and
that is a definite life from an embryo that has been injected
with a donor nucleus. In rabbits and rats, cloned embryos are
normal and full term. So, cloning is coming in two species. So,
you have embryos that have never seen a sperm or never seen an
egg Well, they have seen an egg but they have never seen a chromosome
division in the egg. To ask for a definition is very difficult.
Professor Leese: I thought of
this as a subtext in which you have three weeks and 10,000 words,
frankly. It is very difficult to define it here and now. I accept
that, for operational terms, it probably does need defining and
I am sure whoever redefines the act will do a first-rate job on
Professor Edwards: Perhaps your
Committee could do it.
Q1101 Chairman: You were trying to
help us but you are not being too helpful at the minute!
Professor Leese: My response would
always be to seek advice and I would put it to the professional
bodies first of all and see what they say.
Q1102 Chairman: But you admit that
it is a problem.
Professor Leese: I do not think
it is as big a problem as you make out.
Q1103 Chairman: We are not making
out that it is a problem, we are asking you a question.
Professor Edwards: I would say
candidly that we in our field, within all these things we are
talking about, when it is written, we understand what is meant.
Q1104 Chairman: The world moves on.
Professor Edwards: Yes and I think
any attempt to start to apply a new name would lead to much verbiage.
This is what I fearpre-embryo has disappeared.
Chairman: We are talking to you about
the public and constituents out there.
Q1105 Dr Harris: I just want to ask
you about this idea of haploidisation to create effects of the
artificial gametes. Is it your understanding that that could be
useful? It is permitted subject to licence at the moment or would
it not count as a gamete under the HFE Act?
Professor Edwards: It is now done
in rabbits and rats, NT goes to full term and normally, as far
as I can see . . . I hesitate because I do not have the evidence
but I am told that this is true. It means that we can start to
think of doing this instead of doing things such as collecting
testicular sperm where you almost shred the testes to get the
rare sperm out. You would simply get a drop of blood and use that
instead. It probably brings the descent of the male a little further
than his rather poor performance in my field because it would
not be sperm. I do not know how it would go down! I think that
a lot of people would get advantage from it. I am being 100% serious
here. If all couples where there were no gametes in one of them
could use this technique, it could be very helpful to a lot of
people worldwide, an awful lot of people. I cannot be more definite
Professor Leese: But it would
have to be tested exhaustively for safety and epigenetic effects,
the potential damage if you went down this novel route. That is
what I would say in terms of the regulatory body. There is great
novelty but the testing required would be immense to ensure healthy
Q1106 Dr Harris: If it were shown
to be safe, do you think it should be licensable, regulated and
allowed both for infertile couples, in the way you have described
Professor Edwards, and indeed same sex couples?
Professor Edwards: Yes, I would
say definitely. I think it would be a very valuable clinical tool
to help a lot of unfortunate people.
Q1107 Dr Harris: There are rules
saying that embryonic stem cells should only be used in the regulations
for the treatment of serious disease and there may be situations
where embryonic stem cells and use of embryos could be used to
treat infertility such as deriving gametes, for example, from
embryonic stem cells. Do you think that infertility is a serious
disease that should be covered by the terms of that condition
if we keep that condition?
Professor Edwards: We have known
that embryo stem cells will produce gametes since 1968 when we
transferred them to see if embryos would produce gametes, so there
is no problem. The question is, what quality are they? I think
I agree with Henry totally. I would want detailed analyses on
growing gametes in vitro because they undergo very detailed
molecular changesI do not want to go into themwhich
might be affected.
Q1108 Dr Harris: My question was
that you can only do this research, even just checking it for
whether it is viable or not, using embryos and embryonic stem
cells for serious disease and would you consider deriving gametes
to treat infertility to come into the remit of serious disease
to justify, under the existing regulations, licensing that activity?
Professor Edwards: I have always
thought that infertility is a very serious disease. It is not
classified as a disease, it is a condition, but I think anything
we do to help any infertile couple would be wonderful. I can actually
talk about the current status of spermatic cell haploidisation.
It is not working. It appears to be more complex than cloning.
Maybe there are some extra things to learn that we do not know
already and I think it will be some years down the line if it
Q1109 Dr Iddon: One last controversial
question while we have such an eminent panel in front of us, if
I may say so. Professor Edwards, do you think we can draw the
line between research on these interesting new technologies and
Professor Edwards: Again, it depends
what we mean by eugenics. Eugenics was started in the 1870s by
an English geneticist who had the welfare of mankind in his mind.
The work became degraded after 1930 caused by the Nazis but also
by various other things where people were found not to be behaving
themselves fully correctly in relation to the way they abused
their children. So, the word became degraded and it is a word
that you have to be very careful about using today for this reason:
you cannot use this word in Germany, for example. It is impossible
to go there. You have to say exactly what you are trying to do.
I think we can define what we want to do without using that term
and I think we can make it clear to people what we want to do
without using that term. I would love to show you the minutes
of our meeting last week when these things were discussed in great
detail when you would have seen that the problem is complicated
but could be solved.
Q1110 Dr Iddon: Is that the view
of the other two witnesses?
Professor Leese: If I recall the
question, I think my answer would be "yes" and that
you simply need a strong regulatory body that keeps people on
Professor Peckham: I think it
is very difficult and you would have to be very, careful when
you use it because you have to separate the two and not let them
merge. I agree that you have to be very careful.
Chairman: Thank you very much for helping
us wrestle with the very difficult remits of today. You can be
sure that the new science that is coming through will be part
of our report, so your evidence has been quite crucial to help
in that. Thank you very much indeed