Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1140
WEDNESDAY 24 NOVEMBER 2004
Q1140 Dr Iddon: Yes.
Dr Lovell-Badge: There are three:
there would be chimeras, there would be co-culture and there would
be the nuclear transfer as well.
Q1141 Dr Iddon: Well, how long do
Dr Lovell-Badge: Let us start
with the nuclear transfer experiments going across species and
there have been lots of attempts at this mostly in China taking,
for example, human somatic cell nuclei and putting them into rabbit
eggs. That was used to derive embryonic stem cells which, according
to the work published, have all the properties of human embryonic
stem cells. The reason for doing those experiments was simply
to get over the shortage of having human cell lines and that seems
to me to be a perfectly good reason for doing it. You can imagine
other reasons for trying to do this. There was a paper published
recently where people, again in China, had taken cells from early
chicken embryos and put them into rabbit enucleated eggs and they
claimed to get blastocysts from those. A lot of this work has
not been easy, so it is to be taken with a pinch of salt. I think
that as long as that sort of work is done for purely experiments
in culture, I see no real problem.
Q1142 Dr Harris: The Chinese thing
is unlawful in this country at the moment.
Dr Lovell-Badge: Is it? I do not
Professor Murdoch: Yes, it is.
Dr Lovell-Badge: I have asked
and have never received an answer.
Professor Murdoch: I understood
that it was.
Dr Lovell-Badge: You are not using
any human gametes. I guess you would have to call it a sort of
human embryo at one point.
Professor Murdoch: I may be wrong.
It is actually that you cannot put an embryo into an animal which
is not the same thing.
Dr Lovell-Badge: So, I think it
probably is. It is possibly regulated by the Home Office and Procedures
Chairman: Does that help you, Brian?
Q1143 Dr Iddon: Not really! It is
obviously a very experimental area and it needs further looking
Professor Murdoch: One issue that
is important is that, if we are going to develop stem cells of
a therapeutic product, then we actually need to be growing them
and deriving embryonic stem cells from embryos in an animal-free
environment which at the present time is difficult to do. So,
from that point of view, we need to separate them out. Just because
there is always the risk potentially of making a therapeutic product
that has animal . . .
Dr Lovell-Badge: That is also
the co-culture thing. Most people have today made their human
embryonic stem cell lines, growing them on feeder cells from the
mouse but that situation has changed.
Q1144 Dr Iddon: It looks as if there
might be a clash of legislation, and Parliament will obviously
have to deal with that.
Dr Lovell-Badge: The third type
of experiment is the chimeras if you want me to talk about that
too which is where you are deliberately trying to mix cells from
two different species. For example, we know that with mouse embryonic
cells, if you introduce those back into an early mouse embryo,
they will contribute to the development of that embryo and will
give you a live born animal with a mixture of cells derived from
the embryo and cells that were in culture. So, it has been proposed
that people might want to do these experiments to test whether,
for example, embryonic human stem cells are also really and truly
pluripotent, that they can give rise to all sorts of cell types
by transferring them into the embryo of another species. I personally
think that this is very unlikely to work taking the embryonic
stem cells themselves. However, I think there are good reasons
for making chimeras at later stages where you have a particular
cell type that you want to, if you like, replace in the mouse.
Perhaps you want to humanise the mouse in order that that mouse
has a particular set of cells, like the immune system, which is
then derived from humans. And then you can use them for study
as a model of human diseases.
Q1145 Chairman: This is a good lecture!
Dr Lovell-Badge: I am sorry, I
will stop. There are good reasons for doing it is all I am saying.
Q1146 Dr Iddon: That is what we were
Professor Pedersen: Can I respond
in the spirit, I think, of your question as to whether there would
be any further regulation needed with respect to these proposed
experiments. I think that, in the first instance, they would be
precluded from clinical use because they combine what we have
to avoid, namely animal product contribution to medical material,
so nobody would use that ultimately in clinical use and I do not
think there are any additional regulations needed beyond that
Q1147 Dr Iddon: Let me finish by
trying to provoke you. We have had other witnesses in front of
us who have said that the stem cell scientists are overselling
the benefits of stem cell research and the chances of helping
people with various diseases is pretty small. I am giving you
a chance to react to those witness statements which we have on
Professor Pedersen: I would like
to react. I think it is entirely self-evident that blood stem
cells are clinically effective because they have been in use for
decades now clinically to treat people if they are undergoing
chemotherapy or have had forms of anaemia for example, but the
difficulty of extending that therapy to other tissues is that
we cannot grow those adult stem cells in a Petri dish. They simply
do not grow. When you take them out of the body, they start growing
and specialise and that is even true of blood stem cells. So,
how we expand this field of knowledge is to study what we can
study in fact and that is embryonic stem cells which grow in a
Petri dish and have the capacity to turn into every tissue of
the body which means that the other stem cells . . . What we expect
is to break this entire field of knowledge open by studying embryonic
stem cells. This is an area where we know exceptionally little
at this present time, that is to say how our body works as an
organised system. It is like any field of knowledge at the very
beginning, you cannot guarantee where it is going to deliver but
we can say with certainty that it will deliver. It will probably
deliver vastly in excess of our narrow expectation which is simply
transplantation. What we probably will discover is how to get
our body stem cells to perform better in their place and that
is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If I now may take
just a moment to finish . . .
Q1148 Chairman: Please try and be
Professor Pedersen: In the interests
of having this goldmine as heart of the knowledge-based economy,
I think it is exceptionally important not to make the mistake
that the US has made which is not simply to put negative regulation
in the way of the research but to keep changing the policy. The
volatility, in my mind, is what has lost the advance of this research
in the States. It is because it changes with every administration
and I would therefore caution you against making unnecessary changes
in the regulatory structure because it is the stability of regulation
that allows people to go out with confidence and invest their
lives and their student's lives in this research area.
Q1149 Dr Iddon: While we have you
on this stand, can I just remind the Committee that, in the American
elections just gone, stem cells featured quite prominently in
the debate leading up to the election. Would you be hesitant if
that happened in the next General Election which is imminent in
Britain and could you defend yourselves on the general public's
platform to defend the work you are doing if it happened here
and would you welcome a debate during a General Election campaign
Professor Pedersen: I would certainly
welcome it. It seems unlikely in view of the fact that both major
Q1150 Dr Harris: Both?
Professor Pedersen: Forgive me!
Q1151 Dr Harris: You are forgiven!
Professor Murdoch: In terms of
the American debate, the polls in America suggested that 70-80%
of the population supported stem cell research despite the stands
that were taken within the debate and I am sure that it is at
least the same in the UK. I would be really surprised if there
is a polarisation of views considering that Parliament has already
debated and voted on this issue relatively recently. I do not
think it would help in moving us forward to have that issue raised
in a public debate. The issue we are talking about of stem cells
being overhyped raises two issues. The first, which I think is
important, is that we recognise the timescale involved and that
sometimes the media will say that a cure for Parkinson's is going
to happen tomorrow and it is not. There is a huge amount of work
to do and, if we raise expectations too soon and if we move to
clinical trials too soon
Q1152 Dr Iddon: We have been told
five years in this session.
Professor Murdoch: That is fine
but that message is sometimes not getting over to the people who
are against it. I think sometimes you need to recognise the position
of the people who say it is hype. If you come from the viewpoint
that there should not be IVF and there should not be embryo research
and that is why you should not be a member of stem cell research,
you have to be clear where those views come from.
Dr Lovell-Badge: Do not forget
also the research purpose of using embryonic cells. You can use
embryonic stem cells to study genetic diseases and you can use
them to try and find alternative ways of curing people than as
Q1153 Mr McWalter: Your remarks about
elections, the public and so on connects with my earlier point
which was to try and get some sense of ownership of the wider
public of some of this stuff because, to be honest, that 22% for
whom it was an issue, that, for them, often is the number one
issue and so they discount everything else. They are like foxhunters.
They discount everything else. That is the only issue they are
going to vote on and that is the one they go on and I think that,
from that point of view, even if it is a minority of people, it
is extraordinarily electorally potent and that is why we need
to make sure that there is much greater public understanding and
public ownership of both the ethical and the scientific basis
of a lot of the materials we have talked about today.
Professor Murdoch: I would entirely
agree and I spend a lot of my time talking to various people about
Dr Iddon: At the moment, licence applications
and the peer review of those licence applications are dealt with
by the HFEA without transparency and one of the criticisms that
we have had from other witnesses is that the whole process should
be transparent. Of course, the Freedom of Information Act is about
to impinge upon us in January next year. Is there concern among
professionals that the whole process will have to become transparent,
the licensing application and the peer review reports or not?
Q1154 Chairman: You will have to
see the reports.
Professor Murdoch: I am being
careful what I say because of the legal issues that are going
on at the present time in terms of the process. I do not have
any problem. There is nothing that we have given to the HFEA in
terms of any research licence applications that we have put through
that I would consider could not be available in the public domain.
Dr Iddon: I am pleased to hear that.
Q1155 Chairman: I was just thinking
that, since Norwich MPs have a great relationship with Prince
Charles, if we could get him to speak out for stem cell research,
it would be game, set and match but I have my doubts at the minute.
Do you think there is duplication of ethical and scientific review
processes? Do you think they could be combined better or do you
think they are kept very separate for a good reason?
Professor Murdoch: The ethical
procedures have been changed enormously over the last five years
and have been tightened up. There is a 60-paged document that
I have to fill in to get local Ethics Committee approval for these
sort of procedures and all the consent forms have to be approved
by them. So, for them to be looked at again by a separate authority
could end up with a situation where someone does not like that
word, it goes back to the other person, they change that sentence
and you could just bounce backwards and forwards. There should
be one organisation that does that but, having sat on a local
Ethics Committee for some time, I do not think they have the expertise
to deal with some of the scientific issues that relate to whether
the procedures we are dealing with are legal.
Q1156 Chairman: Do you have confidence
that the HFEA comes to an informed judgment on that basis? You
have been singing their praises, international stars and so on.
Can they make that judgment best in this country in terms of licensing
and taking the scientific evidence?
Professor Murdoch: Which judgment?
Whether there should be a licence or not?
Q1157 Chairman: Yes as an example.
Do you have great confidence in them being able to assimilate
all this data and make a judgment? Are they the organisation to
Professor Murdoch: There has to
be an act of Parliament that regulates to a certain extent what
we do and therefore there will have to be an authority that implements
that Act. I do have some concerns about the process that the HFEA
goes through at the present time. I would not sing its praises
100%. There are lots of things that could be improved. I think
it is slow. It is over-bureaucratic because it is necessary to
do that because of the legal requirements it has to fulfil in
its due process. The procedures for inspection and for reports
are a negative influence in terms of research. The particular
research with stem cells is only one form of research. If you
are talking about research relating to basic ART techniques, I
think that regulation is very disinhibitory to basic research
that goes on in the laboratory and could be improved. I would
not want to say that the HFEA is perfect by any means. There are
lots of things that could be improved.
Q1158 Chairman: Would you concur
with that, Robin? Yes or no?
Dr Lovell-Badge: Yes.
Chairman: Thank you very much indeed.
I am sorry to bring it to an end but thank you very much for coming,
it has been very helpful. I know that it is a tortuous process
for you but thank you very much for answering our questions enthusiastically
and, I think, accurately. Thank you very much.