Human Exceptionalism

Holy Cow: “Cybrids” Manufactured in UK

Scientists in the UK claim to have made embryos using cow eggs and human DNA through SCNT. Although the work has yet to be verified via peer review, Newcastle scientists told the press that the embryos lasted three days. From the story:

Embryos containing both human and animal material have been created in Britain for the first time, a month before the House of Commons is to vote on new laws to regulate the controversial research. A team at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne announced tonight that it had successfully generated “admixed embryos” by adding human DNA to empty cow eggs, in the first experiment of its kind in the UK. The achievement will heighten debate over the ethics of human-animal embryos, as the Commons prepares to debate the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill next month.

The point of these “cybrids,” we are told, is to study disease models. Cow eggs were used because of the (justifiable) dearth in human eggs:

Admixed embryos are widely supported by the scientific community and patient groups, as they provide an opportunity to produce powerful stem cell models for investigating diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes, and for developing new drugs.

Their creation, however, has been vociferously opposed by religious groups, particularly the Roman Catholic church. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the head of the Catholic church in Scotland, described the work last month as “experiments of Frankenstein proportion”…Once the technique has been tested, scientists hope to create cybrids from the DNA of patients with genetic diseases. The resulting stem cells could then be used as models of those diseases to provide insights into their progress and to test new treatments.

But the new IPSCs could do that too, and without the effort, expense, and moral contentiousness involved in trying to develop cloning techniques. Indeed, the scientist in charge of the team who created Dolly, Ian Wilmut, gave up cloning research that he had been licensed to perform precisely because of the “lead into gold” IPSC breakthrough.

I find it remarkable that the reporter didn’t raise this question with the scientists. If we can obtain the benefits they claim to be pursuing without compromising crucial moral principles, why wouldn’t we? Perhaps because, as I suspect, the real point of this is to learn to clone human life come what may.