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Many researchers and scientists agree with the hon. Gentleman's point that the eventual aim is to use adult cells. Perhaps that will mean adult stem cells, perhaps ordinary adult cells in which the clock can be turned back to make them stem cells again. However, we are not there yet. Many people believe that we will never get there until and unless embryonic stem cell research is carried out first. Those embryonic stem cells, with their power and potency, could teach scientists how cells grow and develop, and how to use adult cells as well. Until we make those breakthroughs--either from embryonic stem cells or from adult stem cells--the case for embryonic stem cell research is extremely strong.
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is essential to understand the process of cell differentiation from the embryo to the adult? By not studying embryonic stem cell research, we might miss some vital chemical triggers that cause the important cell differentiation in the early stages of life. Does she also agree that learning the secrets of cell differentiation at that level may give us a clue about cell differentiation going wrong in conditions such as cancer?
Yvette Cooper: I agree with my hon. Friend's points, which are extremely important. Those were also the conclusions of the Donaldson committee. We have asked it to consider whether adult stem cells could provide an alternative. It has looked into all the new research on adult stem cells and it has kept looking--and we have kept asking the Committee, even since the report was finished, and it still maintains that that cannot replace embryo research.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): On the difference in principle between research on adult and embryonic cells, is it not true that an individual could be cloned using a somatic cell--an adult cell? It may not be as easy, but we could still create new cloned individuals from adult cells, so there is not as great a difference in principle between embryonic and adult cell research as some people believe.
Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead): Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that her response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, South-East (Dr. Iddon) is exactly what alarms many of us? He said that one must follow the process of cell differentiation all the way through. A considerable amount of differentiation goes on after an embryo has developed its primitive streak. Will the Minister, at the very least, withdraw her agreement with my hon. Friend and establish firmly that that is not what she has in mind?
Yvette Cooper: I will certainly clear up any misunderstanding that has arisen. There is a difference between tracing the cell development and what happens to cells as they develop and tracing the embryonic development. Under the 1990 Act, no research can take place beyond 14 days. The Government do not advocate any research beyond that point, as it is not appropriate. The safeguards in the Act are clear. A separate issue is understanding the development of cells--cells not embryos--extracted from embryos. It is important to understand how they develop, but it is important that any research does not involve embryos beyond 14 days. That is clear in the Act and the regulations.
Dr. Michael Clark (Rayleigh): The Minister has been generous in giving way. Her speech is a model of clarity and I am thoroughly enjoying it. Does anything in the regulations indicate whether, if work on adult stem cells progresses and could take over from work on embryonic stem cells, the use of the latter would automatically be reduced, or would new regulations or legislation be required?
Ms Jenny Jones (Wolverhampton, South-West): Can my hon. Friend confirm that scientists who have successfully converted adult stem cells and differentiated cells into other types of adult cells have confirmed that it is premature to suggest that adult cells can replace embryonic cells in that research?
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right. Many of those in the vanguard of adult stem cell research do not believe that it can yet replace embryonic research. In previous debates, I quoted Professor Richard Hynes, the president of the American Society for Cell Biology. Also, Angelo Vescovi, who leads the Italian team, which has done pioneering work on adult stem cells and neural cells, says that he "completely disagrees" with the view that his research means that there is no need for embryonic stem cell research.
Let us suppose that happens and that embryo research is not needed. That is no reason to vote against these regulations. If embryo research is no longer needed, under the 1990 Act it will not be licensed. That is the law.
The 1990 Act states that the HFEA must satisfy itself for each and every research proposal that the embryos are necessary for the research. If another way to do the research exists--through adult stem cells--the research cannot be licensed under the law. The checks are already built into the law, and so they should be.
Right now, the best scientific advice in this country and on the international stage is that adult stem cells do not have the potential that embryonic cells have. However, should that change over time, checks are already in place--in the Act--to ensure that adult stem cells rather than embryos are used in future research.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): One point that the Minister has not covered in her excellent and clear speech is how the safeguards will be enforced. Can she absolutely assure the House that there will be independent checks and audits when there is permission to use those embryos?
Yvette Cooper: Clear provisos are set out in the 1990 Act for checks on the embryo research that is carried out at present. The HFEA has responsibility for licensing and regulating all the research that takes place. It has to report yearly on its work. Those regulations are already in place; they will continue under these regulations--it is right that they should do so.
Dr. Howard Stoate (Dartford): My hon. Friend is extremely generous in giving way. Will she clarify a fundamental point on the difference between embryo and stem cell research? At the six-day stage, when the stem cells have been removed from the embryo, that embryo no longer exists, so the stem cells taken from it have no potential whatever to become a human being; they can differentiate only into different cell lines.
Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I shall clarify the matter for the House so that there is no misunderstanding. The stem cells extracted from embryos for research cannot develop into human beings; they are stem cells. They are in isolation and cannot possibly become human beings. Embryos cannot possibly be used in research after 14 days. The stem cells can be extracted--usually at about five to six days--and are then separate from the embryos; those stem cells can then be used in research.
Many Members have asked questions and expressed concerns about cloning. Opponents of the regulations have raised another important concern, and claimed that this is the slippery slope to human reproductive cloning. I could not disagree more strongly.
Let me make very clear the Government's position on this matter. Human reproductive cloning is illegal. It must stay illegal. Under these regulations it will stay illegal. These regulations have nothing to do with human reproductive cloning. I know of no one in the House who advocates human reproductive cloning. The idea of cloning babies is completely unacceptable to the House and to public opinion.
Some people have argued that cell nuclear replacement is the first step on the slippery slope to reproductive cloning. Cell nuclear replacement is a technique for creating stem cells that are genetically compatible with the donor. The nucleus is removed from an egg, and the nucleus from a donor adult cell is put in its place. By triggering the growth of an embryo, it is possible to develop and extract stem cells that are genetically compatible with the person donating the adult cell. The Donaldson report concluded that cell nuclear replacement could hold the key to growing stem cells that the diseased body will not reject--stem cells that are genetically compatible with the patient in need.
To answer the question asked by the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), the 1990 Act does not distinguish between research on embryos created through IVF and those created through cell nuclear replacement. That technique is legal under the current law, but only under the strict conditions of the current law. In other words, it is legal to carry out that technique for the purposes of research into infertility, contraception and so on, but it is only legal up to 14 days, only under licence from the HFEA, and only if there is no other way to do the research.
Like the 1990 Act, the regulations do not--and cannot--distinguish between one technique and another. They do not make cell nuclear replacement research legal because, strictly speaking, it is already legal. All they do is change the purposes for which cell nuclear replacement research can be carried out.