Sunday, July 02, 2006

Review of book by Ian Wilmut

Paul Riddell reviews the book After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Human Cloning (by Ian Wilmut and Roger Highfield). Riddell criticizes certain ambiguities in the text by Wilmut, but in turn Riddell himself omits certain aspects of the Dolly saga.

For example, although Riddell states:

it is to the immense credit of Dolly's creator Professor Ian Wilmut that, having been responsible for propelling them from the realm of science fiction into mainstream debate, he confronts them head-on and with refreshing candour.

Riddell omits all mention of the controversy in which Wilmut's actual role as the creator of Dolly is questioned (for example,
see post on IPBiz from Guardian story in March 2006.

Riddell notes the upcoming ten year anniversary of Dolly:

It will be ten years next Wednesday since Dolly was born at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh. The first mammal ever to be cloned from an adult cell (a mammary cell, to be precise; hence, famously, the eponym after the legendarily buxom country singer), she became the world's most famous Finn Dorset ewe within days of the Observer publishing leaked details on 23 February, 1997 of a paper by Wilmut and his colleague Keith Campbell due out later that week in the science journal Nature.

Although Riddell mentions where Wilmut is, he does not mention what became of Campbell, or what became of the patents derived from the work leading to Dolly.

Of the ethical concerns over embryonic stem cell work, Riddell states:

Professor Wilmut is somewhere in between. In a chapter which asks, rhetorically, "Is a Blastocyst a Person?" Wilmut remarks: "The blastocyst that sits silently at the heart of this debate is a far cry from the popular image of the embryo, of a little foetus with limbs and heart, brain and other organs."

He further states that the main reason he doesn't regard a blastocyst as a person is that it has "no mental life", since nerve connections have not formed by this stage, and therefore the early embryo can feel no pain. He concludes: "The potential of cloning to alleviate suffering - even end it for some diseases - is so great in the medium term that I believe it would be immoral not to clone human embryos for this purpose."

However, confusingly, he goes on to add that the embryo should be shown "respect". Surely the ultimate form of disrespect for an embryo is to kill it?

Riddell notes that Wilmut's position on blastocysts is not accepted by all:

Professor Wilmut's ethical viewpoint has been challenged, most recently, by John Haldane, Professor of Philosophy at St Andrews University, who argues that "an embryo [at blastocyst stage] is not a potential human being but a human with potential". This suggestion is, to my mind, undermined by two facts: that the embryo can separate into twins after the blastocyst stage; and that some 60 to 70 per cent of embryos fail to implant themselves in the womb.

Riddell mentions the scientific fraud of Hwang Woo-Suk:

In any case, the science of stem cells suffered a grave setback in 2005 with the scandal surrounding a team of South Korean scientists led by the nationally revered Woo-Suk Hwang. After claiming to have creating 11 lines of human embryonic stem cells, he was exposed as having accepted eggs from female staff and falsified results.

but Riddell does not mention the letter to the editor of Science sent by Wilmut in December 2005, written at a time when the egg donation problem was fully understood, but before Wilmut recognized the fraud of Hwang.

Riddell does distinguish the reproductive cloning work of Wilmut from the therapeutic cloning work contemplated by Hwang and others:

Instead, the focus has shifted from reproductive cloning to what is known as therapeutic cloning. The truly revolutionary aspect of Dolly in this respect was that she showed biological development does not run in only one direction. When an embryo is formed by conception it becomes a tiny ball of cells termed a blastocyst, which is comprised largely of stem cells. These cells are undifferentiated, or pluripotent, which means simply that they have the potential to turn into any cell in the human body, be it blood, kidney, skin or brain. By removing the nucleus from an egg and replacing it with the nucleus of an adult mammary cell, Professor Wilmut and his team demonstrated that it was possible for a cell that had already differentiated to revert to stem-cell status.


Post a Comment

<< Home