Scrap fertility agency, says British IVF expert

Outspoken fertility expert Lord Robert Winston has called for the UK's fertility regulator to be scrapped. Upset by interference from the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Authority in requests for pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and saviour siblings, he wants the practice of fertility medicine to be self-regulated. He called the HFEA incompetent and bureaucratic and suggested that it was scaring the public unnecessarily. "It also may be true that public regulatory bodies increase public anxiety because they focus on something, suggesting there may be anxiety when really there isn't any need for it," he told the BBC. Although experts defended the HFEA… MORE

Another alternative to embryonic stem cells?

Stem cells found in hair follicles could provide an ethically non-controversial alternative to embryonic stem cells, say researchers. Writing in the journal Developmental Dynamics, researchers from the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Charles University in Prague say that neural crest cells taken from mice can differentiate into neurons, nerve supporting cells, cartilage and bone cells, smooth muscle cells and pigment cells. Preliminary data suggest that similar cells exist in the human body. MORE

Listen to the voice of religion, says Nature

The leading journal Nature has exhorted scientists to be aware that they are trespassing on traditional turf of religion when they complain that religion is invading science. At the heart of the problem, says Nature, quoting the Jewish bioethicist and chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, Leon Kass, is that "victory over mortality is the unstated but implicit goal of modern medical science". But immortality has always been the domain of religion.

In an accompanying survey of religious views on stem cell research, "today's frontline controversy" in the "fractious relationship between science and religion", Nature cites Pope John Paul… MORE

“Bulletproof” Proposition 71 surprises voters

After endorsing a US$3 billion bond issue for stem cell research, California is beginning to realise that the institute coordinating the research will have no outside oversight and has been "bulletproofed" against meddling by politicians. Lawyers crafted the initiative to ensure on-going funding and to protect it from the possibility of a Federal ban on embryo reseach. As a result, the California legislature has no say in how the money will be spent while the governing committee has maximum flexibility in its mission of seeking cures. The legislature cannot modify the law for three years and even then it will… MORE

IN BRIEF: bioethics; Russia; florida; New Zealand

Ethics: The American Society for Bioethics is sponsoring a conference on "the ethics of bioethics" next April in Albany. Organisers say that the conference will deal with allegations of undue financial influence on bioethicists and other recent criticisms. MORE

Is the biotech revolution a myth?

One of scientists' main selling points to gain government support for stem cell research has been its dramatic potential for rapid progress. The new field of biotechnology would revolutionise medicine and bring billions of dollars of revenue to investors and governments. Tony Blair has made it a key element of his science policy and Californians recently approved US$3 billion in funding over the next 10 years. Even developing countries like South Korea and South Africa are investing heavily in biotech. However, a study commissioned by the British government has concluded that rapid returns… MORE

Scientists and bioethicists puzzled by new stem cell options

The head of the US President's Council on Bioethics, Dr Leon Kass, says that he supports further study of two ethically puzzling alternatives to conventional embryonic stem cell research. Both proposals were presented at the Council's first meeting since November's presidential election. "I think these are two extremely interesting, very creative proposals," said Dr Kass.

The first of these is a suggestion by Dr William Hurlbut, a Stanford bioethicist on the Council. He says that clones can be genetically engineered to develop into beings which cannot properly be described as human embryos but will still yield embryonic stem cells (see… MORE

Eggs divide without sperm

Welsh researchers may have found yet another way of producing embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos. The process uses an enzyme, PLC-zeta, normally produced by sperm, which prompts the egg to divide. It seems that human eggs treated with PLC-zeta continue dividing to the blastocyst stage. However, since these lack paternal chromosomes, say the scientists, they could not develop into babies. They believe that it could provide an ethically uncontroversial alternative to deriving embryonic stem cells from human embryos. The team from Wales College of Medicine at Cardiff University says that the discovery might also help couples who are unable… MORE

Therapeutic cloning off the boil

Scientists no longer describe therapeutic cloning as essential for "miracle cures" from embryonic stem cells. According to a report in the web magazine Wired, "if therapeutic cloning were vital, it would make stem cell therapies prohibitively expensive". The real reason why scientists want to clone embryos, it seems, is for research. "The value of nuclear transfer [cloning] is not for cell therapy, it's to do molecular research to figure out how genetic disease is manifest," says Tom Okarma, the CEO of Geron, a prominent Californian biotech company which works with human embryonic stem… MORE

Stem cells could cure incontinence

Austrian scientists have used muscle stem cells as a treatment for urinary incontinence in women. Stress incontinence affects 15 million people, mostly women, around the world. It occurs when the sphincter muscles around the urethra become weak or diminished. Now a team from the Medical University of Innsbruck has found that cells taken from women's arms and then cultivated and injected in a brief operation replicate nearby cells. "Not only do they stay where they are injected," says Dr Ferdinand Frauscher, "but also they quickly form new muscle tissue and when the muscle mass reaches the appropriate size, the cell… MORE

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