Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 22

Submission from the Scottish Stem Cell Network (SSCN)

  Thank you for inviting submissions of evidence to your inquiry into the Government's proposals for the regulation of animal/human hybrid and chimera embryos for research purposes. The Scottish Stem Cell Network is mindful of the ethical tensions in this field and would like to submit the following points for your consideration.

  1.  Embryo stem cells obtained from blastocysts produced by somatic cell nuclear transfer could help to advance regenerative medicine in three ways: (i) through the creation of cellular therapies immunologically matched to the patient, (ii) through advancing understanding of nuclear re-programming which could facilitate the use of adult tissue stem cells as cellular therapies, (iii) through creating opportunities to study inherited human diseases not available in other ways.

  2.  We believe that the production of bespoke immunologically matched cellular therapies through cell nuclear transfer is unlikely at present, particularly due to the shortage of human ova and the inefficiency of both the cell nuclear transfer and embryo stem cell derivation processes. Use of animal ova could help to address some of these issues in the longer term.

  3.  Autologous tissue stem cells (ie procured from the patient him/herself) could provide an immune compatible source of stem cells for cellular therapies, but at present the extent to which they can be directed to self-renew or alter their differentiation commitment is unclear. Cell nuclear reprogramming may improve our understanding of these processes and facilitate this path to cellular therapy.

  4.  Many diseases have an inherited component including Motor Neuron Disease and some other neurodegenerative disease (such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease) some cancers, and some causes of sudden heart failure (cardiomyopathy). The genetic mutations which predispose to these diseases have been identified in only a minority of cases. Creation of embryo stem cell lines with the genetic information from a patient suffering from such a disease with subsequent differentiation of relevant cell types may allow comparative studies with cells from a person who does not have the disease. The aim of the research would be to understand better the early stages of disease development and identify potential drugs able to prevent or mitigate development of the disease.

  5.  At present the only embryo cell line established from a cloned human embryo was produced after transfer of a human nucleus into a rabbit unfertilised egg (in China). There are currently no embryo cell lines after transfer into human eggs and it is not certain that this will prove possible.

  6.  There are a variety of limitations surrounding the use of human eggs: there is an overall shortage of good quality human eggs; donation involves the woman undergoing minor surgery and usually hormone stimulation, both of which cause discomfort and carry a minor risk; some women might be willing to donate the eggs for use by other infertile couples and there is an unmet need for these.

  We feel that in these circumstances it would be beneficial to be able to use eggs from rabbits and other animals to allow these avenues of research to progress in a timely manner.

  Thank you again for the invitation to contribute to this consultation.

January 2007

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