Pyramid Comment

This journal takes an alternative view on current affairs and other subjects. The approach is likely to be contentious and is arguably speculative. The content of any article is also a reminder of the status of those affairs at that date. All comments have been disabled. Any and all unsolicited or unauthorised links are absolutely disavowed.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Human-Rabbit/Cow Chimera Potential

The moral blackmail has started to try to push through the legality of meddling with human genetics. Since human embryos are not readily available for experimentation and research into human ailments (motor neuron disease, Alzheimer's), animal sources are being targeted. Patients with "incurable crippling diseases may be denied treatments because of government plans to outlaw the creation of 'human-animal' embryos".

Claims are being propounded that the Department of Health has fundamentally misunderstood the ethical implications of human-animal embryos and bowed to pressure from religious groups for an all-out ban. The technique, which produces embryos that are 99.5% human, aims to address the shortage of human eggs for stem-cell research.

Stem Cells (Science) 21st February 2008

This sounds a very large and favourable amount, but 99.5% human means there is 0.5% non-human. This is a ratio of 1:200 non-human content. Even a million times less would be potentially too much. A chimera is a biological organism consisting of at least two genetically different kinds of tissue as a result of mutation. This is viable. The DNA would be contaminated and integrated into the human DNA.

If a cancerous tumour is excised from any area of the body, the growth may visually seem to have been removed. However, a residual (single) cell could be all that is necessary to reactivate a cancerous growth. Follow-up radiation treatment may not be enough to completely kill any potential for cell growth.

Embryo Research
IVF In Africa

Clearly, much is speculated and essentially unknown. Once the genie has been released it can never be put away without consequences. A potential legacy for the human race is not necessarily beneficial. It could be a curse.

Pandora's Box

Professor Chris Shaw, King's College London:

"there are hundreds of thousands of patients in Britain with degenerative neurological conditions. We can use these cell lines to study them, and to see if drugs are going to be effective. To shut that down is a real affront to patients who are desperate for therapy. Of all these diseases, none are really treatable. This is a very serious turning point in terms of science and medicine."

Stephen Minger, King's College London:

"the government appears to have taken a very negative view of human-animal eggs and this seems to have influenced the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority) decision on whether or not to grant licences. It is really short-sighted and I am confused as to how the Government has come to this position."

Comments like this make me nervous:

" an area in which Britain has had a lead, and if we prohibit using animal oocytes [eggs] it would become an area in which we would have a serious disadvantage."

The implication here is that academic "leadership" would be compromised.

DNA for an entire cell from a patient with MND would be inserted into the shell of a rabbit or cow egg from which the nucleus has been removed. The resulting embryo would be more than 99.5% human, and split to create stem cells. It is already illegal to implant human-animal embryos in the womb or bring them to term.

Being illegal is unlikely to stop it happening (should that be desirable), but the potential is there.

  • There is no opposition to understanding and assisting those with these diseases. However, that Britain could academically lose leadership in "human" genetics is not a good enough reason by itself to engage in such research. More assurances of the safety of the research would be required. The benefit to even several hundred thousand individuals in a global population of nearly 7 billion (around 0.005% of the global population = 350,000) could potentially threaten the remaining 99.995%.