Britain Approves New Stem Cell Provisions

October 23, 2008 09:37 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
British lawmakers approved the use of hybrid animal-human embryo research yesterday, in a victory for stem cell research proponents.

Britain Allows Animal-Human Embryo Stem Cell Research

British lawmakers in the House of Commons Wednesday voted 355 to 129 to permit scientists to perform stem cell research with hybrid animal-human embryos. The vote marked the first time in about 20 years that the British government confronted the issue, the Associated Press reports. 

The House of Lords will now vote on the bill and it is expected to become law by November, according to Agence France-Presse. 

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and scientists had fought for such use of stem cell research against the objections of religious leaders and other opponents for months.

When the debate began, Health Minister Dawn Primarolo argued in favor of the research by saying that, "One in seven couples need help with fertility treatment, 350,000 people live with Alzheimer's, every week there are five children born and three young people die from cystic fibrosis—all issues that this bill addresses."

According to the AP, the process of hybrid-animal embroyo stem cell research involves, “injecting an empty cow or rabbit egg with human DNA. A burst of electricity is then used to trick the egg into dividing regularly, so that it becomes a very early embryo, from which stem cells can hopefully be extracted.”

Those who wished to reform British laws on abortion were disappointed, however, that the House did not use the opportunity to debate the abortion issue.

Background: Progress in stem cell research

Injuries that used to end horses’ careers are being repaired with their own stem cells, reports Wired magazine. National Institutes of Health researchers are growing human spinal disks, cartilage and muscle in the labs, though the tissues aren’t ready to be used yet.

“Stem cells are very promising, but what they do for horses may not work so well for humans because humans are the hardest animal to rebuild,” said Rocky Tuan, a researcher at NIH, in an interview with Wired.

Last year, another research team said it was able to reprogram human skin cells to act like embryonic stem cells, or cells that can turn into any type of human tissue.

In the past decade, science has learned quite a bit about what adult stem cells can and can’t do. Adult stem cells don’t carry any federal limits or the baggage embryonic stem cells do.

But not all adult stem cell research has been so promising. Scientists haven’t been able to replicate some of the most exciting adult stem cell studies, according to Scientific American. Another NIH researcher, Eva Mezey, told Scientific American last year that embryonic stem cells are still more versatile than adult stem cells.

Opinion & Analysis: ‘Shackled’ research vs. the end of embryonic stem cells

Thomas Robey, a medical student at the University of Washington, recently reflected on the seven years since President George W. Bush enacted a ban on using federal money to develop and research new embryonic stem cell lines.

“The end result of the policy is that, anything goes if you have your own money.  This slowed down all of the richest universities, but did not stop them, because research was still permitted on the ‘presidentially approved’ lines,” Robey wrote.

Though the development of another series of stem cells that look like embryonic stem cells does not make human embryo stem cell research unnecessary, they do have their benefits.

“These cells do present a true middle ground between the scientific proponents and religious opponents to [human embryonic stem cell] research,” he wrote on the blog Clashing Culture.

But Yuval Levin, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., believes advances in other types of stem cells may be the answer to the embryonic stem cell ethics debate.

“I think that, in time, this probably will be the final chapter of this particular debate about embryonic stem cells, but I don’t think we’re at the end of it quite yet,” Levin said in a July interview with The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Reference: Stem cells explained

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