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Robert Winston on the UK's fertility bill

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on May 13th, 2008

Lord Winston
Robert Winston

Assisted reproduction pioneer Lord Robert Winston had some surprising words about the UK's controversial bill to overhaul its oversight of the reproduction industry and stem cell research. Two of the most controversial planks, for which there will be  conscience, are those regarding cytoplasmic animal-human hybrid embryos for stem cell research, and the selection of "savior siblings" through preimplantation genetic diagnosis. The Telegraph reported:

As for the Bill itself, [Winston] has an unexpectedly maverick approach. On human-animal hybrids, one of the most controversial issues, he says: "I'm really worried about saying this to you, because I know I shall get stick from my colleagues.

"But if the hybrid embryo thing doesn't go through, it in no way shakes the body of science. It's not [about] embryos that can survive, or viable monsters. Nothing like that.

"It's a nice adjunct; a useful extra. But if we don't have that resource, it won't fundamentally alter the science of stem cell biology."

Lord Winston has grave reservations about another disputed clause. "I'm very unhappy about 'saviour siblings'."

His concern is that children selected to provide treatment for a sick brother or sister may be put under undue pressure to give bone marrow or organs.

So it wouldn't break his heart if the measure was voted down? "Absolutely not," he says. 

Previously on Biopolitical Times:

Nature on California's "Cronyism"

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on May 9th, 2008

In a recent issue, the editors of Nature - among the most gung-ho supporters of stem cell research - caution against the "cronyism" and "inherent problems" at the California stem cell research agency. The editorial says:

Several episodes over the past year have highlighted an inherent problem with the CIRM's structure: the board that distributes its funding is stacked with representatives from the universities that benefit most from those disbursements. The CIRM has enacted rules to try to limit the conflicts of interest posed by this arrangement. They don't go far enough. At one meeting in January, for instance, CIRM board members from institutions that had applied for a facilities grant voted to deny one....

As the patient advocates grow into their roles as full partners, and with help from well-intentioned lawmakers such as Kuehl, the CIRM must be coaxed into serving its most important constituency — the taxpayers of California. The roles themselves are not unusual in the world of governance, but here the stakes are exceptionally high.

In the News this Week

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on May 9th, 2008

A bill to expand federally-funded embryonic stem cell research may be introduced again to Congress, despite the fact that it its likely to be vetoed again. Its Democratic cosponsor is clear that this would be solely for politcical purposes. However, the bill may include new measures for stem cell research oversight. Monya Baker at Nature's The Niche blog has more.

The Los Angeles Times investigated the exaggerations of genetic matches used by prosecutors. The same authors had recently examined the growing use of DNA databases in California.

A grant for stem cell research to a California-based company by the New Jersey state government is raising questions, particularly amid debt and budget cuts.

You can always keep up-to-date at the CGS newswire, and via our RSS feeds

Contrasting Coverage of CIRM

Posted by Jesse Reynolds on May 7th, 2008

Today, the governing board of California's multi-billion dollar stem cell research program meets in Los Angeles. At the top of their agenda is the final approval of $227 million toward major facilities construction. The state's two largest newspapers each had a preview this morning, yet they were quite different from one another.

The splashy full-color spread on the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle spent almost 1200 words doing little more than repeating the talking points of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the stem cell agency. In fact, it only used quotes from grant recipients and CIRM itself.

In contrast, in little over 400 words the Los Angeles Times covers much mroe ground. The article quoted two public interest critics: Consumer Watchdog's John Simpson, who praised the lab construction, and me. I noted, "The primary argument that was presented for Proposition 71 - particularly in the area of large facilities - is becoming less and less important. Bush's restrictions will most likely be undone before the first brick is laid." The Times also pointed out that the largest CIRM grant will go to Stanford University, which not only is a private institution but also has the third largest endowment among universities in the nation, and that this is being done in the context of  budget cuts to state universities.

But the Times didn't have the space in the stem cell article to describe how bad the fiscal situation really is. The bond rating of the state is low and falling, and California will face a cash-flow crisis this summer. The governor's budget proposes to close 48 state parks and slash education, including the budget of the state's university systems. Veteran political observer Peter Schrag says the the University of California is being put "on a long-term downward trajectory that will continue to erode quality, limit access and permanently damage what for decades was the nation's premier system of public higher education."

At least we'll have all those stem cell researchers and new buildings.

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