Monday 26 May 2008

Promises of cures from cloned human embryonic stem cell research misguided - Dr James L. Sherley

James L. Sherley, M.D., Ph.D. is a Senior Scientist at BostonBiomedical Research Institute in the U. S. He visited London recently as a guest of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. Last week, he sent me the following reflections on his visit and on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill:

"When I listened to the BBC's 45-minute re-broadcast titled 'Embryology: The Science and the Ethics' [17th May 2008] back in my own home inBoston in the United States, I hoped that MPs debating and voting on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill this week in the UK were diligent enough to get and listen to the full 2-hour debate titled, "Science, Ethics, and Faith: A Conversation About theHFE Bill," sponsored by the Welcome Trust on Friday May 16. Even the 2-hour "conversation" is inadequate, but at least it does not have the added deficits of the editing knife.

"There are many more crucial issues that MPs should weigh with reason, before they vote on this landmark human rights bill. My arrival in London Wednesday night was clouded with a sense of déjàvu. Just 19 months earlier, I made a very similar trip to the Australian Parliament in Canberra. I was impressed by the MPs that I met there who were working diligently for their constituents to better understand human embryo cloning research, whose fate in Australia they decided soon thereafter.

"In my capacity as a practising stem cell biologist, my message was simple. Human embryonic stem cells, whether extracted from cloned embryos or fromIVF embryos, cannot work in the bodies of children or adults. Like the UK, in Australia, research with IVF embryos was already permissible. So, against that precedent, the added truth that cloned embryos, like cloned animals, were too defective to be used to develop medical therapies designed to work inside or outside patients' bodies did not prevail. So now, 19 months later, Australian scientists are still actively destroying nascent humans while wasting research dollars on studies that are flawed in concept and practice.

"My visit to London, as to Canberra, was at the invitation of citizens there concerned about both the disregard by some for the humanity of human embryos and the needs of UK and world citizens who suffer from debilitating ailments for which there are currently no effective treatments. I was asked to share additional expertise and insights to MPs as they approached their vote on the HFE Bill, which if approved would allow scientists to make "admixed" embryos by putting the human genetic material into the eggs of animals like cows, monkeys, and rabbits.

"The guiding principle for previous public deliberations on permission for these experiments has been whether they are 'necessary and desirable.' Supporters of the HFE Bill argue that the experiments are necessary to address the shortage of human eggs that limits embryonic stem cell cloning research, and desirable because it keeps alive the possibility of cures from cloned human embryonic stem cell research.

"I came to London to empower MPs and the UK public to act responsibly (to themselves, to their loved ones, and to nascent humans) about what they already know or at least suspect. There are serious flaws in the stated motivation for the argument to pass to HFE Bill.
"The promises of cures from cloned human embryonic stem cell research are indeed misguided. Whether extracted from IVF embryos or cloned embryos, embryonic stem cells are unable to mend tissues and organs. Only adult stem cells have this ability, and they possess it naturally. This special property of adult stem cells is the reason that all current effective human medical therapies based on stem cells utilize adult stem cells, and none utilize embryonic stem cells. This was true 19 months ago when I visited Canberra, and it is still true now. I remind everyone, including my scientist colleagues, that the best test of the worth of the promises of scientific reports, like all other promises, is time. Many more years from now, this picture will not change. Embryonic stem cells lack the natural biological properties required for repair of non-embryonic tissues.

"Beyond the motivation by cloned embryonic stem cell research being a basic flaw, there is a baser problem with the admixed human embryo experiments that would be promoted by the HFE Bill. They are scientifically unsound and absurd. Frankly, I am quite amused (and many other scientists are too!) that anyone wishing to present themselves as scientifically excellent and socially responsible would promote such experiments. Perhaps, they have just lost their way or are blinded by a light that only they see.

"Animal cloning is quite inefficient. It is very difficult to get an egg, which has had its own genetic material extracted, to correctly translate the genetic material of a body cell of the same exact animal type. Human cloning, which has now been attempted by several groups, has proven formidable. So, no one needs a scientific degree to know just about how likely an animal egg is going to be able to correctly translate genetic material from a human body cell. Most likely, not at all.

"Yet, the scientists and physician MPs (like Evan Harris, whom I had the dubious distinction of meeting), who push for the HFE Bill, tell us that these admixed embryos will help us to improve human cloning and better understand human diseases. Really?! The question that the UK public and other MPs need to put to these scientists and this physician MP is, "What is really motivating your vacation of reason?" Of course, ridiculous scientific investigations are only symptoms of the diseased nature of the HFE Bill.

"Many UK citizens, including my hosts, are concerned about the moral gangrene promoted by the bill. I am as well. In countries like the U.S., Australia, and the UK, that have legalized abortion of fully-formed unborn children, it is a difficult, but not impossible, undertaking to raise public awareness and concern for the deaths of the nascent humans conceived by embryonic stem cell research. If approved, the HFE Bill will accelerate the rate of deaths of all immature humans, including experimentally disfigured admixed human embryos, IVF embryos, and fetuses.

"Already there are papers in the scientific literature from groups reporting admixed human-rabbit and human-cow embryos. It is noteworthy that, for these troubling experiments, women's rights issues do not apply. Surely, these nascent humans must be given a different kind of hearing than fetuses have been given. There is neither a moral nor a scientifically acceptable reason for their conception, which is entirely avoidable; and they cannot provide faithful models for our human ailments. They will just die from their own unique ailments that were given to them by their scientist masters."