Despite some peculiar polling, the UK's regulatory agency, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, recently granted permission to stem cell researcher Stephen Minger of King's College London to create human-animal hybrids via nuclear transfer. In this, he will transfer human nuclear matieral into cows' eggs as an alternative to women's eggs. He recently told the Daily Mail:
The reason we want to use cow's egg is that no-one, except in China*, has managed to create cloned human cell lines yet. It is extremely hard to do. For us to try what we are going to try would take tens of thousands of eggs. These must be fresh and can't come from the unwanted eggs used in IVF treatments. It is unjustifiable to ask women to donate to a research programme that is so inefficient.
This isn't the first time he's taken this line. He's also previously described the HFEA's proposal to offer women reduced rates for IVF if they'd provide some eggs for stem cell research as "exploiting women for money," as well as warned of moving stem cell treatments into clinical trials too rapidly.
In his refreshing honesty, Minger hits on two of our critiques of the stem cell research debates. Advocates typically repeat claims of the imminence of cures while downplaying costs. And they often assert that cloning-based stem cell research is for the development of patient-specific stem cell therapies, when a more likely use is to study cellular models of diseases in a controlled, in vitro environment - a much less exciting scenario.
* Minger's reference to China is surprising. In 2002 and 2003, Chinese researchers claimed to have derived stem cells from clonal human embryos, but this has not been verified or repeated.