Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
31 JANUARY 2007
Q20 Chairman: We will come back to
returning them to the uterus later, but keeping the embryo for
14 days is perfectly okay for you.
Dr Armstrong: It is more than
enough for my purposes.
Q21 Chairman: Professor Smith, would
you echo that? Can you see any value in going beyond that?
Professor Smith: At the present
time, certainly I can see no value because, as Lyle has said,
there is no evidence that an embryo of any mammalian species can
develop to any useful stage without implantation in the uterus
which would occur before 14 days in humans.
Q22 Dr Spink: I am going to go back
to first base just to set the context. Nothing of course is certain
in research but I wonder if you could set out for me the potential
benefits for mankind generally that you see for stem cell research
around the world, Professor Shaw. Would you give us the broad
backdrop of that?
Professor Shaw: We are looking
to make disease specific cell lines. The challenge for us, certainly
in the field of Motor Neurone Disease which I principally work
in, is that, in 20 years, we have only discovered one gene which
accounts for approximately 5% of all cases. That is like dealing
with one piece of a jigsaw puzzle; you really do not know the
total picture. When we discover a gene like thisin this
case it is called SODIwhat we do in the laboratory is put
that into stem cells, so that we can grow up millions of cells
and study the disease mechanism. That is what I do; that is what
my laboratory does; we are modelling the disease using stem cell
lines. What nuclear transfer does is that it says okay, we do
not need to go down that very long and laborious gene hunting
route, we can actually use the gene defect that exists in every
patient's cells and derive stem cells from that. So, they already
carry the gene defect that we know causes this disease and then
we can direct it to become the kind of cell that is important.
What that allows us to do is to generate billions and billions
of cells to study in the simplest way. We are not studying tiny
embryo of a few cells or some patient's tissue. I think that the
opportunities that are there are vast, almost any disease that
has a genetic basis.
Q23 Dr Spink: So, this may or may
not lead to some sort of better treatment or cure for that particular
Professor Shaw: Absolutely.
Q24 Dr Spink: And we are talking
about some of the world's most terrifying diseases that affect
millions and millions of people.
Professor Shaw: Indeed.
Q25 Dr Spink: So, there is massive
potential benefit if it comes off.
Professor Shaw: Huge potential
Q26 Dr Spink: You of course know
because you suffer from it like we do as politicians that the
public mistrust science and they mistrust politicians. You can
laugh but we are both scientists and politicians, so we get it
both ways! Why are the disease lobby groups not coming forward
to lobby to change public opinion in this country as they have
done in America?
Professor Shaw: I think that they
are. The Motor Neurone Disease Association has strongly supported
our work from the outset; they supported us when we applied originally
to use human oocytes and they have supported us subsequently to
use animal oocytes. Obviously they need to be careful about the
way in which they present themselves, but certainly we have not
had any resistance from them and have indeed had active backing
for our work. I have not met any particular anxieties or concerns
from the associations with whom I have contact.
Q27 Dr Spink: It is my job to get
a little context on the record, as it were, for the Committee.
Would you each give us a little example of your knowledge of this
sort of work/research that is going on around the world in different
areas in different countries?
Dr Armstrong: The principal groups
which are working on interspecies cloning seem to mostly exist
in China at this present time. The most poignant example of course
of that was nearly four years ago now with Professor Huizhen Sheng
at the University of Shanghai who produced, so she claims, human
embryonic stem cell lines.
Q28 Chairman: Do you not believe
Dr Armstrong: I do but the experiments
have never been repeated, which is a crucial thing. There is probably
a very good reason for that and that is because, when Professor
Sheng produced her results, it was immediately overshadowed by
the apparently very good data coming out of South Korea. So, it
is quite possible that she thought that there was no future benefit
in going ahead with this work because human nuclear transfer into
human oocytes is so apparently simple, but of course, as we all
know now, that is not the case. I think that it is high time that
we revisited Dr Sheng's work.
Q29 Dr Spink: We will be following
that line of inquiry and we will be seeing the Koreans this week
and the Chinese people probably next week, so we will be following
those lines. Thank you for that. Do you have any other examples
of this research going on around the world?
Professor Shaw: I think that in
many countries and certainly in the United States where, although
you cannot get the state funding for this sort of work, I do not
think there is a law that actually bans this work.
Q30 Dr Spink: Not at all.
Professor Shaw: I think there
will be others in many countries doing this sort of work and think
that is important to do. I certainly would not want them to stop
doing it, but I think that Britain would definitely be much less
competitive in this field in terms of science.
Q31 Dr Spink: Professor Smith, do
you have any examples?
Professor Smith: I do not have
any specific examples. You have heard from Lyle about the work
that has been done elsewhere. I would take a slightly different
tack on what Chris has said. I think that Britain has the opportunity
to be the first country to legislate positively and to have a
proper regulatory framework for this type of work. Other countries
in Europe are not doing so and, in the United States, it is in
the private sector. I think that what happens in this country
is important for the scientific community internationally because
good scientific colleagues in other countries do not necessarily
have this option.
Q32 Dr Spink: I am grateful to you
for saying that because we are proud that our country is, in a
way, leading the world with the first stem cell bank and we think
with an ethically-based but permissive regulatory regime. What
we are trying to do is to prevent that being changed by inappropriate
action driven by ill-informed public opinion and we have to get
that balance right. Professor Smith, why, if you believe that,
are you not following this line of research yourself?
Professor Smith: From the point
of view of scientists, there are many important and interesting
questions to pursue in the stem cell arena and my particular expertise
does not lie in this area. I was talking with Professor Shaw beforehand
and he is using, in his work, some cell lines that we developed
through a different route, so one is working in the same broad
area context in which each individual has to pursue their own
particular angle. This is only one rather small aspects of the
whole bigger picture of stem cell research. There is only the
opportunity to fund the best people in each area; you do not want
everybody taking the same approach.
Q33 Dr Harris: I would like to first
of all put on the record that I have discussed this matter with
Dr Armstrong and Professor Shaw before we announced this inquiry
when we went into this in some detail and it is only fair that
I should point that out. The Government's White Paper, for want
of a better word, says that revised legislation will clarify the
extent to which the law of regulation applies to embryos combining
human and animal material. The Government will propose that the
creation of hybrid or chimera embryos in vitro should not be allowed.
Is it your opinion, and do you think that it is the opinion of
those scientists interested in this, that that would cover the
creation of the pseudo-hybrids that you are seeking to do?
Dr Armstrong: Our interpretation
of that subparagraph was that that would be the case.
Q34 Dr Harris: Is it also your view
that a ban on the creation of hybrid and chimera embryos, that
is embryos including human and animal material, might cover work
that is currently going on? For example, I have been told to suggest
that the creation of the Down Mouse might be covered by that.
Is it your view that the creation of the Down Mouse, which is
a model for Downs Syndrome which has a human chromosome inserted
in mouse embryonic stem cell and then a chimera created and grown
to term and bred, would be covered by such a rule all other things
Dr Armstrong: If such things are
truly defined as hybrid organisms, then, yes, it is possible that
it would. Those models are very valuable where we try to find
the mouse model of the human disease which bear human (inaudible),
but our understanding of the current White Paper was that it was
largely focused on producing hybrid embryos by nuclear transfer,
but these would not be produced in that way necessarily.
Q35 Dr Harris: The White Paper talks
about creating hybrids and chimeras mixing human and animal material
and creating embryos. I would be interested to know whether the
other witnesses feel that that definition without further clarification
might cover the introduction of a human chromosome into mouse
embryonic stem cells and the creation then of a chimeric embryo
from that which is then grown to term.
Professor Shaw: It is a hybrid
if you are putting chromosome material from two different species
together in the same cell, so by definition it is. It is not the
complete complement of human chromosomes, so you can at least
debate that issue, but these are essentially hybrid cells.
Professor Smith: I think that
the wording is very fuzzy and unfortunate and, apart from that
particular example, actually there is a much more serious issue
about the use of the term "chimeras" because, any time
that you transplant cells into an animal model, say Parkinson's
Disease, then you are actually creating a chimera, and this wording
implies that any of those types of experiments which are routinely
done, could be . . .
Q36 Dr Harris: The wording relates
to embryos actually. So, it could be said that, when you are introducing
cells into a mouse, that is not creating an embryo and therefore
would not be covered by this. One then might argue, why is an
embryo more worrying than a full-grown animal with human and animal
tissue merged? It is curious to say that something that is never
going to develop is a worry and something that is running around
with the same combination is. Do you say that is unfair?
Professor Smith: That is a reasonable
argument but it is also the case that there are situations where
you introduce cells in utera into developing mouse or rat
embryos and this is quite important to test the development potency.
Chairman: You are basically saying that
this wording is not helpful and that is needs to certainly be
Q37 Dr Harris: We will come back
to chimeras when we come back to the 14 day point later. The final
question from me is regarding this issue about the risk to research
if this ban, even with the possibility of later regulations, comes
into fruition. Is it possible to estimate, to give a number, as
to how far we are currently ahead of other countries because of
what Dr Spink described as a permissive yet equitable regularly
framework? How quickly would other countries catch up with us
if there was a pause created on this sort of work?
Dr Armstrong: Certainly if the
United States were to release or promote federal funds for embryonic
stem cell research, it would be only a matter of a few years before
they were able to supersede the efforts that Britain was making
in this area. Currently, we have more opportunities than they
do to go ahead with this type of research. It is much easier to
do embryonic stem call related projects than it is in the US or,
for example, in Germany where it is very difficult to even buy
in embryonic stem cell lines to work on in the labs of collaborators
we have met. We do risk throwing away our early lead in this type
of research if we choose to ban certain types of procedures because
we think that perhaps certain people may find them distasteful.
Q38 Chairman: I am trying to move
on, so would you be fairly brief.
Professor Shaw: My point is that
I feel very uncomfortable talking about competition because, from
my point of view, the race is against the disease. These cells
lines would be made available internationally for people to discover
cures and that is the purpose.
Q39 Adam Afriyie: Do you think there
is a possibility that if a decision is not made or if that line
or research is banned or outlawed, people working in this area
would move and simply relocate abroad where they are able to work?
Professor Shaw: Certainly the
work will relocate abroad. Whether people will or not is another
matter. I personally will not but others may.