Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Times: Hybrids: separating hope from the hype

See also: The case for, 'we have a moral duty to cure illness', the case against, 'benefits based on fantasy, not fact'.

[...] Prof Scolding points out that, thanks to pioneering work in Japan, there is now an egg and embryo-free alternative source of stem cells, albeit one that might present other ethical issues (such as the ability of men to make eggs).

"That has led scientists all over the place (including Sir Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly) to embrace this technology. Which makes it all the more inexplicable why a small minority of UK stem cell scientists wants to pursue the extraordinarily complex and frankly speculative hybrid approach."

For many scientists, such as British stem cell pioneer and Nobel prizewinner Sir Martin Evans, resolving such issues provides a clear scientific rationale for using cybrids to find out more about the basic role of mitochondria in development and in disease.

There is, for example, research at Newcastle to transplant healthy human mitochondria to treat serious metabolic diseases that could benefit from that. However, the hard sell has been about the medical use of cybrid stem cells - not by using the cells themselves in human bodies, but to test drugs and study disease.

When even human stem cells are poorly understood, it will take a lot of slogging to show whether cybrid stem cells will behave properly. Here, even Sir Martin feels the immediate potential has been hyped and claims about cures "overheated". Read more
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