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Ms Ruth Kelly (Bolton, West): I am sure that everybody in the House feels deeply emotional about the problems that the Minister is describing. Some of us might even have experienced those diseases in our families. The question before us today, however, is what are the ethical limits of scientific inquiry and whether we should use embryo stem cells or adult stem cells. Is not science moving so rapidly that even in the few weeks since the Donaldson report was published huge scientific
Yvette Cooper: I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that embryo research has to be strictly regulated and controlled, but I disagree that adult stem cells have at this stage in our knowledge the same potential for research as embryonic stem cells. I shall address that in some detail in a moment.
It is hard for those of us who do not object in principle to embryo research to turn our backs on the chance to end suffering. Some people have strong ethical objections to any form of embryo research, and I respect that. However, those who accept that it can be justified under strict regulation and within strict constraints believe that there are huge potential breakthroughs.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): The hon. Lady makes a blanket statement. She will agree that the 1990 Act is different in its nature and quality from what will be proposed next week, which relates to the cloning of human embryos--a completely new development. I hope that she will focus on the ethical issues relating to cloning, because simply to make the blanket statement, "Well, the whole issue is ethical; we respect that but we should move on," misses the point about the distinction of the regulations that the Government seek to introduce.
In the past few weeks, many people have asserted that all embryonic stem cell research is unnecessary and that breakthroughs have been made with adult stem cells, so all the research can be conducted using those. Many of those who argue that most strongly are opposed to all embryo research, whether it is essential or not. Nevertheless, the argument is extremely important and I shall address it.
We asked the Donaldson group to consider the issue in detail. In fact, it was one of the central purposes of setting up the group. It investigated whether the research could be done in any other way, and whether embryonic stem cell research was essential. It considered all the research developments. Since the publication of the report, we have talked to the group again and it still strongly maintains that although adult stem cell research has huge potential, we need embryonic stem cell research too.
The reason is that adult-derived stem cells are few in number and hard to find. We do not even know whether there are stem cells for every part of the body. Those that we can find take longer to grow and develop. Their potential to turn into a wide variety of cells appears to be more limited.
Embryonic stem cells are a different story. They can renew themselves, develop into many kinds of stem cells and could be the key to learning how cells regenerate and develop and how to turn back the clock on an adult cell to turn it into something else. For many scientists, the holy grail is to use not embryonic cells but adult cells--using my skin cells to develop new brain tissue to repair damage done by a stroke. Without the key from the use of embryonic cells, we might always be locked out of that area of knowledge and potential.
Someone suggested that we might be able to achieve such things with cord blood. We have cord blood banks in the United Kingdom, which play a vital role in bone marrow transplantation. Cord blood is an important source of stem cells, but in that area, too, scientists have not yet found a way in which to differentiate all tissue and cell types. The Medical Research Council has said that it is not aware of any data that shows that stem cells from cord blood develop into anything other than blood cells, which means that its potential could be limited.
Many of those "arguing" that adult stem cells are enough have based their claims on research from other countries, such as the United States, where there have been considerable breakthroughs. That research is extremely promising, but it does not end the need for embryonic stem cell research. In fact, many of the scientists who have been carrying out adult stem cell research have said the same. Professor Richard Hynes, president of the American Society for Cell Biology, said:
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is one reason why scientists feel that, as this stage, there is far more power in embryonic stem cell research to help us make the breakthroughs that we need, which could in the end render unnecessary research using embryos.
Mr. Fabricant: I might not have heard the Minister, but I do not think that she mentioned the possible cure of diabetes. Is she aware that more than 2 million people in the United Kingdom suffer from some form of diabetes--not necessarily resulting in a daily injection of insulin but none the less causing great difficulties such as thrombosis in the leg and eye degeneration? Is she aware that the Wellcome research laboratory has said that there is no evidence that adult stem cells have the capability to be mutated, if that is the word, into the islets of Langerhans to be inserted in the pancreas, producing insulin naturally, which for the first time would result in a cure for diabetes?
Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is right that scientists believe that the treatment of diabetes is one area that could benefit hugely from stem cell research. He is also right that the range of potential uses of adult stem research is still much narrower than that of embryonic stem cell research. It is true that, in opening the door to embryonic stem cell research, we open the door to many potential cures and treatments.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): The Minister made a critical point that those working on adult stem cells are unanimous in the scientific view that research using embryonic stem cells not only opens the door to greater insight but can be used in the same laboratory to further their work. It is critical that we
Yvette Cooper: The hon. Gentleman is right that many involved in adult stem cell research recognise not only the limitations of such work but the potential of embryonic stem cell research, which is why many support the extension of the latter.
It is right that where there are other ways in which to conduct research, the use of embryos should be avoided. It is right that, if breakthroughs occur, adult stem cell research should be conducted instead. That is exactly what the 1990 Act sets out; such checks and provisos are already built into it. The HFEA must check that the use of embryos is necessary to the research before it grants a licence. In licensing any research using embryos, the HFEA must satisfy itself that there are no other means of meeting the research's objectives. The HFEA has confirmed that it will do exactly that. That applies to cell nuclear replacement technique, too, to which I shall come in a moment. There, too, the HFEA must satisfy itself that there are no other means of meeting the objectives of research.
I turn to the issues surrounding cell nuclear replacement technique. Many have said that the regulations will open the door to human reproductive cloning. I cannot say more strongly that human reproductive cloning is illegal; it will stay illegal. The regulations do not permit it. They do not permit even research into it. I know of no one in the House who is advocating human reproductive cloning. I find it a deeply troubling idea, and the Government are adamantly opposed to it.
Ms Kelly: Is my hon. Friend aware of the survey in The Independent in August, which asked 32 eminent scientists, some of whom advise the Government, whether allowing the first stage of cloning would inevitably lead to reproductive cloning? More than half thought that it would.
Yvette Cooper: I disagree with those scientists. The power to permit human reproductive cloning lies in this House not in the hands of scientists, and this House is adamantly opposed to it. I am adamantly opposed to human reproductive cloning.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): That might be true, but unfortunately the early stages of cell nuclear replacement are exactly the same process. Has the Minister seen the early-day motion in the name of the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin), to which I referred the Leader of the House yesterday? It quotes the Official Report of 2 April 1990, in which the then Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), said that