May 23, 2008

Britain Goes Ahead With Hybrid Embryo Research

by Rohan Parker

Earlier this week, British MPs voted on a Bill which would decide the fate of hybrid embryo research in the UK.

In an almost two-to-one vote, the exact numbers being 336 to 176, the amendment was downed, and the decision was made that this type of research could continue.

The world is taking a very close look at this issue, because so far Britain is the only country to go ahead with this type of research.

What scientists have been given the go ahead to do is use a combination of animal and human embryos to gain a specific type of cell.

Scientists may take the unfertilised egg of a cow or rabbit, for instance, and extract 99% of the animal’s DNA from it, as nearly all mammalian DNA is stored in one part of the cell called the nucleus.

Once scientists have taken the DNA from the nucleus, they will put in an adult human cell in its place, a skin cell for instance.

Thus, we will be able to get human embryonic stem cells from the egg, which is now 99% human.

In all cases with hybrid embryos, they will be required by law to be destroyed after 14 days.

There were three proposed amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

The second and third amendments were to make it illegal to create ‘true hybrids’ which were embryos which contained 50% animal DNA, and to put a limit on the use of the hybrid embryos.

All three amendments were voted down by MPs.

Across the UK, and the globe, people are denouncing the result of the vote, saying that this is ‘going too far’ and ‘violating natural law’.

Conservative MP for Gainsborough, Edward Leigh, opened the debate in the Commons, and was very much in favor of passing the amendments to stop this kind of research.

He stated that as yet, there was very little evidence to suggest that this research would actually yield any kind of cure for anything.

But Labour MP for Norwich North, Dr Ian Gibson, who is also a former senior academic biologist, stated that science is advanced through recognising the possibilities from previous research, from following a hunch that if you take a certain action, you will gain a certain reaction.

He went on to say that this is how you do research, why you do research, and this is how science has gotten us this far today.

Scientists are using this kind of research to gain access to more embryonic stem cells, and due to the lack of human eggs available for research, scientists are turning to new methods in an effort to continue their work.

The importance of stem cells lies in the fact that they are un-coded cells.

This means that the cells are not specific to anything yet, be that neuron, skin, heart, ect, and what scientists want to do, is learn to trigger those cells to become what they are needing them to be at the time.

If scientists can do this, it is believed that they will be able to use these brand new cells to cure many diseases that as yet, have no cure.

For example, if a scientist can trigger a stem cell to become a neuron cell, then they may be able to use that newly created neuron cell to repair the damaged neuron cells in the brain of someone who suffers from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.

Tory leader, David Cameron, presented a personal account for why he believed the research should go ahead.

He spoke about his son, who has epilepsy and cerebral palsy, and how he feels when he sees his son is suffering.

Cameron said that, if there was anyway of curing the pain of his child and that of many other such children, then we should try.

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