Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-72)


31 JANUARY 2007

  Q60  Adam Afriyie: Would your comments apply to the mixing of DNA in the case of hybrids?

  Professor Shaw: I will reserve my comments just to the kind of experiments we want to do. I do not feel I should go beyond that.

  Dr Armstrong: I would like to echo what Professor Shaw says. Every chromosome that would be in the entities that we create, apart from mitochondria, is derived from the human cell. The instruction set that cell has in order to become an embryo, to create the structures of the embryo and to create the inner cell mass which would give rise to stem cells, is all derived from human cell source. To all intents and purposes, from an information point of view, they are human cells.

  Q61  Adam Afriyie: I ask these questions in this order deliberately. Do you feel it is your responsibility to answer these kind of controversial ethical questions? Do you think that is your responsibility in the roles you perform?

  Professor Shaw: Absolutely. Science that hides behind the protection of saying "This is not our role" is bad science. Science should be subject to public scrutiny. I think scientists should be encouraged to come out and discuss these matters. We have a set of beliefs, other people may have a different set of beliefs, and society needs to hear those opinions to make up its own mind. I am grateful for this opportunity.

  Q62  Adam Afriyie: What is the effect of the delay imposed by the HFEA on your work and your research at the moment?

  Professor Shaw: We cannot start it, and this is a really important area. Obviously there will be difficulties with any scientific experiment but, until we have a licence to begin, this whole area may, in fact, if you want to use an inappropriate term, die an embryo. If we cannot work in the field and do not have access to human eggs, I cannot see how we can go forward.

  Dr Armstrong: That is absolutely right. There are many things we can do using animal nuclear transfer but we ultimately have to answer questions of how a human genome responds to the reprogramming process and how we can make human cells from those embryos. Animal studies will only take us so far because the construction of human chromosomes is very different to that of mice. Ultimately we cannot answer all of the questions which we would like to ask in an animal model.

  Q63  Adam Afriyie: Would it be correct to say that the HFEA's delay has stopped that line of research completely in the United Kingdom?

  Dr Armstrong: In humans, that is true, absolutely.

  Q64  Adam Afriyie: But it is proceeding elsewhere in the world.

  Professor Shaw: I hope so.

  Q65  Adam Afriyie: There is a consultation period that has been announced. Professor Smith, how will you work with the HFEA during the consultation period? Is that clear you?

  Professor Smith: It is completely opaque to me.

  Q66  Adam Afriyie: Does anyone else have any views as to how they will be working with HFEA?

  Professor Shaw: We have not been contacted.

  Q67  Chairman: Can I briefly ask you, Professor Shaw, about the stem cell bank? I presume, if your research goes ahead, you will produce stem cell lines from the cybrids. They would be deposited, I presume, within the UK stem cell bank. Could you tell me briefly who would get access to those? You mentioned about sharing your research across the world. Is there a reality that, in fact, Chinese scientists, as an example, would be able to get access to that bank and, therefore, be able to implant those cells in a human somewhere? Is that possible?

  Professor Shaw: Stem cell lines you would not necessarily implant in a human; it is not an embryonic cell.

  Q68  Chairman: But could they grow them up?

  Professor Shaw: You would still only have the stem cell lines and you would not necessarily have an embryo. This is not a blastocyst. This is not something which can immediately be used to make a human being.

  Q69  Chairman: Who will be get access to them from that stem cell bank?

  Professor Shaw: It is not my particular area but they have very strict regulations about who they send cell lines to: you have to be a bona fide research institution; you have to have a track record in terms of this sort of research; and it has to be considered appropriate. Again, I think there has to be legislation in place in those countries to be able to monitor that.

  Q70  Chairman: You are happy that in the UK we have sufficient regulation.

  Professor Shaw: Absolutely; this is the way to proceed.

  Dr Armstrong: That is agreed.

  Q71  Dr Harris: Regardless of whether there is debate in the scientific community about whether this will ever work, are you aware of any disagreement in the scientific community as to whether there is a need to do the research or the potential benefits of the research?

  Professor Shaw: I have not personally heard any sensible dissent from that voice from any of the colleagues I work with. I would invite debate with anybody who takes those views, public and private.

  Dr Armstrong: My experience has been that everyone I have spoken to in the science community is very supportive of the ideas that we would like to try out. We have not come across any significant dissent. There are obviously people who are more predisposed to work on adult stem cell lines but that is simply because their particular research interests have taken them into that field. Everyone in science, or mostly everyone, agrees that we should be pursuing both angles of research. We cannot restrict one because we think perhaps it will not work.

  Professor Smith: I would not say dissent but of course there are different views within the scientific community about the relative feasibility or prioritisation of particular types of experiments.

  Q72  Dr Harris: Are those arguments for stopping the research or are those just guestimates of whether it will ever work?

  Professor Smith: They are guestimates of whether it will ever work.

  Chairman: Professor Armstrong, Professor Shaw and Professor Smith, thank you very much indeed for giving evidence to us this morning. I hope it has been a reasonably pleasurable experience for you too. Thank you very much indeed.

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