Submission from the Biosciences Federation
The Biosciences Federation (BSF) is a single
authority representing the UK's biological expertise, providing
independent opinion to inform public policy and promoting the
advancement of the biosciences. The Federation was established
in 2002, and is actively working to influence policy and strategy
in biology-based researchincluding funding and the interface
with other disciplinesand in school and university teaching.
It is also concerned about the translation of research into benefits
for society, and about the impact of legislation and regulations
on the ability of those working in teaching and research to deliver
effectively. The Federation brings together the strengths of 42
member organisations (plus two associate members), including the
Institute of Biology which represents 39 additional affiliated
societies (see Appendix). This represents a cumulative membership
of over 65,000 individuals, covering the full spectrum of biosciences
from physiology and neuroscience, biochemistry and microbiology,
to ecology, taxonomy and environmental science. The Biosciences
Federation is a registered charity (No 1103894).
1. The Biosciences Federation (BSF) fully
endorses the case to support hybrid/chimera research that was
submitted to the HFEA by the signatories of the letter to the
2. The BSF is firmly of the view that the
current understandable shortage of human eggs is severely limiting
the development of research that may have very significant benefits
to some patients. This problem is unlikely to be resolved.
3. Furthermore, in the unlikely event that
human egg supply could improve there would be insufficient material
for the clinical purposes that underlie the current and proposed
4. Therefore new routes for the development
of human stem cells for therapeutic purposes are urgently needed
if this long talked about remediation of serious illness is to
be realised. The proposed use of (probably) bovine cells for manipulation
of human nuclei is an example of a novel route to overcome the
bottlenecks described above. There is misunderstanding about what
this new approach involves and this has contributed to the current
5. The first point to note is that embryos
derived from these cells would be neither hybrids nor chimeras.
The only nuclear DNA would be derived from the inserted human
nuclei and it is the expression of this DNA that determines phenotype.
All cells in the developing embryo would have the same human DNA
contributing to the phenotype.
6. In the event that the human nuclei was
inserted into the bovine cell with its cytoplasm in situ, there
would be bovine mitochondria present and therefore bovine DNA.
However this mitochondrial DNA does not have the same role in
development as nuclear (in this case, human) DNA and would not
contribute to the phenotype. In any case, it may be possible to
remove the bovine cytoplasm and replace it with the cytoplasm
from the cell providing the human DNA.
7. It would be wrong to imagine that this
novel approach will automatically and rapidly bring us the prospect
of clinical trials for therapeutic stem cells. It may, but there
is much to find out.
8. For example, although we have two copies
of each gene there are many important developmental situations
in which one copy is switched off. If both copies are switched
on development is abnormal. This is an example of genetic imprinting
and there is good evidence that the cytoplasm has a role in establishing
the pattern of imprints. In all work of this type it is essential
to know that the imprints are either normal or that the changes
are known and controlled. The proposed experiments are a wonderful
way to investigate this matter and provide better understanding
about how the production of human stem cells can be regulated.
9. Because there is so much to do and such
high hope amongst patients, the BSF urges that this period of
uncertainty is brought to a rapid conclusion and that the work
be allowed to proceed. In the UK there are some excellent research
teams working in this areabut not many. They would be an
attractive proposition for competitorsespecially in SE