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King's College London - Health: More than a medical matter


News Letter Issue 652 (16 April 2012)

Welcome to BioNews by email, published by the Progress Educational Trust, providing you with news, comment and reviews on genetics, assisted conception, embryo/stem cell research and related areas.

Visit the BioNews website at where you can subscribe for free to receive BioNews by email in one of three formats, and search the archive of more than 6,000 articles.


Emerging science and established problems – governing biomedical innovation in the UK
Nuffield Council on Bioethics Call for Evidence: Disclosure and Donor Conception

News Digest
Boost to egg and sperm donations needed, says HFEA
Rome hospital criticised for destruction of 94 embryos
Scientist allegedly fathered 600 children at own sperm clinic
IVF can't beat biological clock, warns Yale fertility expert
British lab working with controversial stem cell doctor
Gene therapy shows early success in Parkinson's trial
Gene variants linked to childhood obesity discovered
Lab-grown egg cells could be fertilised 'within the year' if licence is granted
Genetic mutations in older fathers' sperm linked to autism

Exhibition Review: Palaces
TV Review: Health Explained - Epigenetics


Emerging science and established problems – governing biomedical innovation in the UK

11 April 2012

By Dr Stuart Hogarth and Professor Brian Salter

Dr Stuart Hogarth and Professor Brian Salter are part of the Global Biopolitics Research Group in the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London

Appeared in BioNews 652
The Department of Health (DH) has announced the formation of a new body to advise on emerging healthcare scientific developments and their ethical, legal, social and economic implications. The new body, the Emerging Science and Bioethics Advisory Committee (ESBAC), will rise phoenix-like from the ashes of the Human Genetics Commission (HGC), which was incinerated in the government's recent bonfire of the quangos. It is a telling illustration of the continued governance challenges arising from biomedical innovation that the adverts for members to join this new committee were being prepared even before the HGC had held its final meeting. A number of questions arise about the new body and how it will build on the impressive work of the HGC in achieving a position of public trust. First, how independent will it be of the Department of Health (DH)? The HGC had a large number of DH ex-officio members but established a robust independence from the Government, which added credibility to its reports.

Second, how transparent will its activities be, and how will it interact with stakeholders and the general public? The HGC had a high level of transparency with its plenary meetings open to the public, its work informed by lengthy public consultations, and its activities (minutes, reports and so on) readily available on its website.

Third, how will it fit into the policymaking process? Although not without influence, it is noteworthy that the HGC was largely excluded from the writing of the White Paper 'Our Inheritance, Our Future: Realising the Potential of Genetics in the NHS'. Thus it would appear that at crucial times there has been a twin-track approach to genetic policy - the open, transparent mode of the HGC, and the more traditional closed mode which produced the White Paper.

Fourth, how will ESBAC's work be supported? It is a sign of our current age of austerity that the new committee will have a wider brief than the HGC but, so we understand, fewer resources. As a result, pursuit of its work is likely to require some adept networking and collaborations with external bodies in order to pool resources, a strategy which we are led to believe is already under consideration.

Finally, there are questions of scope. The first of these relates to the breadth of enquiry. ESBAC would appear to have a horizon-scanning function and a remit to look at the ethical, legal and social issues (ELSI) and implications of new technologies. The ELSI framework of enquiry is demanding in its breadth, and economics is often the Cinderella at the ELSI ball. Again this becomes a question of resources; interrogating economic issues may be rather more expensive than bioethical deliberation – where is the money to come from?

Also, if the committee is genuinely to interrogate the full ELSI agenda then why does only 'ethics' appear in ESBAC's title? Better perhaps to replace the 'B' with a 'P' - the Emerging Science Policy Advisory Committee - if the department is not to appear to privilege ethical enquiry over legal or social science enquiry.

The second scope issue relates to the focus on emerging technologies. As a consequence of the shift from industrial policy to innovation policy we are more concerned with issues relating to invention and early adoption of new technologies – and we now focus far less of our attention on the policy challenges relating to technology use.

Yet it is not only emerging technologies which present governance challenges. The recent controversy over the PIP (Poly Implant Prostheses) breast implants illustrates the point nicely – whilst the bioethics literature has been awash with papers on the consumer genetics industry, there has been a dearth of work on the aggressive marketing techniques used to sell breast implants and other forms of cosmetic surgery.

In many ways public interest concerns mean that established technologies deserve far greater attention - they use up a greater portion of healthcare resources, patients are far more likely to encounter them, and their ethical, safe and (cost-)effective use presents policy challenges every bit as demanding as those arising from novel technologies.

The PIP scandal arose from profound deficiencies in Europe's approach to the regulation of medical devices. The failures of that regulatory regime have implications for the governance of novel technologies (such as the new wave of genomic diagnostics) but impact equally on more established technologies. Given this regulatory gap, do we need an Established Science Policy Advisory Committee to complement ESBAC or should the scope of the new body be broadened? And if it isn't broadened then where do we draw the line in pursuit of the protection of the public interest? When does science cease to be emergent?


Gene Values: Dr Stuart Hogarth's blog

UK Government publishes White Paper on Genetics in the NHS
Wellcome Trust | 26 June 2003


Future of the UK's bioscience advisory body in doubt
17 February 2014 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza
The future of the Government's advisory body on emerging scientific developments is in doubt after a decision has been made not to renew appointments when they come to an end in the coming months.... [Read More]
Book Review: Bioethics - All That Matters
26 November 2012 - by Tom Barrow
Over recent decades medical technology has advanced with extraordinary rapidity. We have arrived at a time where gamete, organs and stem cells are detached and exchanged between individuals, and where machines replicate the functions of human organs... [Read More]
Book Review: Ethical Problems and Genetics Practice
23 July 2012 - by Dr Morven Shearer
One of the difficulties in teaching medical students about the ethics of clinical genetics is that it's often hard to get them to appreciate the multitude of problems raised in everyday practice... [Read More]
Human Genetics Commission publish final report
07 June 2012 - by Dr Rebecca Hill
The Human Genetics Commission (HGC) has published its final report, which marks the end of its 12 years as an advisory body to the Government... [Read More]
Sir Alasdair Breckenridge appointed Chair of Emerging Science and Bioethics Advisory Committee
21 May 2012 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza
Sir Alasdair Breckenridge has been appointed as Chair of the Government's new advisory body on the implications of developments in bioscience, the Emerging Science and Bioethics Advisory Committee (ESBAC).... [Read More]

UK Government's new bioscience advisory body starts recruiting
19 March 2012 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza
The UK's Department of Health has announced it is recruiting members for its new advisory body on the implications of developments in bioscience.... [Read More]
New report on 'Genetics and Mainstream Medicine' published
28 March 2011 - by Seil Collins
A report published by the PHG Foundation argues there needs to be fairer access to genetics in mainstream medicine. It concludes that the UK's current approach to diffusing specialist genomic knowledge and applications into mainstream medical practice is not effective.... [Read More]
Making the most of genomics for health
24 May 2010 - by Dr Philippa Brice
The 2008 'House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Report' on Genomic Medicine failed to adequately reflect the realities of genomics and health, according to a new report released on 18th May 2010... [Read More]
BSHG welcomes the House of Lords report on Genomic Medicine
19 July 2009 - by Dr Rob Elles
Since 2003, the framework for policy in Genetics in Medicine in the UK has been the Genetic White Paper 'Our Inheritance Our future.' There is no doubt that its implementation helped modernise and broaden the scope of genetics in the National Health Service (NHS). It developed new support structures including the National Genetics Education Development Centre and the National Genetic Reference Laboratories, and established the (short lived) Genetic Knowledge Parks.... [Read More]

Nuffield Council on Bioethics Call for Evidence: Disclosure and Donor Conception

16 April 2012

By John B. Appleby and Dr Lucy Blake

John B. Appleby and Dr Lucy Blake work at Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge

Appeared in BioNews 652
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched an inquiry (1) on the ethics of disclosure in families with children conceived using donated reproductive tissue (i.e. eggs, sperm, or embryos). In spring 2013 the Council will publish a report on its findings, making policy recommendations where appropriate. This call for evidence is part of a long history of debate on the topic of disclosure in the UK and runs parallel to international debates in the USA, Canada (reported in BioNews 645), Australia (reported in BioNews 651), and Europe. Even though the consultation has only just begun, we'd like to take this opportunity to consider some of the issues (some more obvious than others) that may arise in the responses.

We think it's likely that this call for evidence will expose the fact there is still a great deal of empirical research left to do, particularly in the case of embryo donation and surrogacy families. There is also little known about how donor offspring who have been aware of their donor conception from a young age will feel about their donor origins in adolescence and beyond.

Nuffield has the difficult task of working with a body of evidence which, for the most part, only extends across part of the lives of donor conceived individuals. Surprisingly, this detail is often overlooked in ethical discussions.

Of the ethics literature that is available and relevant to this consultation, only a limited sample draws on up-to-date empirical research. Therefore, one of the most prominent challenges for the Council will be conducting a sensitive ethical analysis of the available empirical evidence.

Indeed, the task of bridging the gap between ethical theory and empirical evidence, as many bioethicists will attest, is easier said than done. The difficulty in aligning the two is compounded by the fact that little of the empirical evidence clearly and consistently describes the participant's moral and ethical claims. Some participants are very descriptive when discussing how they have been either morally wronged or benefitted as a result of disclosure, but often the ethical content of their testimony is obscure or needs sensitive interpretation.

Therefore, articulating ethical perspectives on disclosure will be a complex task, but one that has the potential to move this debate forward. In particular, this will be useful in dealing with the issue of how children's welfare should be prioritised - and the different ways we can conceptualise the welfare of the child.

The Council will likely find that the available empirical and ethical literature is comprised of many international points of view. However, normative attitudes towards disclosure change across borders, just as they have changed across time. It will be necessary for the Council to keep in mind that the evidence of the ethics of disclosure may very well be relative to whichever country or countries each empirical study was conducted in.

Finally, one of the most overlooked aspects of any debate on disclosure is the ethical importance of how challenging disclosure may be for parents. Evidence about how parents ethically cope with their disclosure decisions is something of considerable value to this consultation.

It would also be helpful for the working party to articulate the kinds of support services that would help families (this is addressed in question 11). The Council should consider what kinds of challenges or difficulties might stand in the way of any parent, counsellor or doctor trying to enact the best practice prescriptive measures relating to disclosure. Keeping the above considerations in mind might help ensure that Nuffield's ethical investigation delivers recommendations of practical significance.

Usually, ethical debates on disclosure are plagued by having too little evidence, not too much. But, this call for evidence will undoubtedly benefit from a rich and varied audience of responders, be they academics, physicians, counsellors, or donor-conceived families themselves (both those who conceived prior to the 2005 change in the law and after).

The Council has set out on a challenging task which will hopefully result in a comprehensive, sensitive report which will be of use for policy makers, professionals and those interested in the ethics of disclosure, both in the UK and internationally.


1) Donor conception: ethical aspects of information disclosure
Nuffield Council on Bioethics |


Nuffield report: Parents should decide whether or not to 'tell'
22 April 2013 - by Dr Wybo Dondorp
The Nuffield Council report rightly rejects the call to pressurising parents into compliance, as this abstract ideal of openness disallows them to make their own moral judgements about what is best in their situation and for their family... [Read More]
Mitochondria in the media
18 June 2012 - by Dr Geoff Watts
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has published a new report: 'Novel techniques for the prevention of mitochondrial DNA disorders: an ethical review'. Dr Geoff Watts, chair of the working party that wrote it, offers some personal reflections on a few of its key conclusions... [Read More]
Birth mother v non-birth mother
08 May 2012 - by Sarah Wood-Heath
There have been a number of high profile cases of late involving disputes within alternative family structures. Primarily these concern fathers or known donors seeking more of a relationship with their child than they originally wished for. However, another interesting and sadly increasing area we are witnessing is the breakdown of relationships in two mother lesbian parent families... [Read More]

Victoria's secret (or 'V' for victory)
02 April 2012 - by Dr Ruth Shidlo
The recent recommendations of the Law Reform Committee in Victoria, Australia, are expected to gain bipartisan support in Parliament and lead the way for reform. They represent a world first in establishing the right of donor-conceived people to retrospective access to identifying donor information... [Read More]
Donor information - time for a debate
27 February 2012 - by Dr Marilyn Crawshaw and Walter Merricks
It is now eight years since the HFEA first issued guidance to UK licensed treatment centres to respond as fully as possible to patients' requests for non-identifying donor information... [Read More]
If it ain't broke, don't fix it: why the HFEA should leave the gamete donation policy alone
30 September 2011 - by Dr Kamal Ahuja
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has already made two decisions following its public consultation and review of gamete donation policies in the UK: first, intra-familial gamete donation can continue as before (subject to certain provisions); and second, the number of families which a single donor might help create remains limited to ten. The bigger question on compensation and benefit in kind to donors will not be answered until later this year... [Read More]
What the kids really want
08 August 2011 - by Professor Naomi Cahn and Wendy Kramer
The largest study to date of donor-conceived people has just been published in Human Reproduction. Its findings show the need to address two different effects of anonymous donating: first, when should children find out that their parents used donor sperm or eggs; and second, should children ever find out the identity of their donors?... [Read More]
Countdown begins for ending donor anonymity in British Columbia: Lessons for us all?
06 June 2011 - by Professor Eric Blyth and Dr Marilyn Crawshaw
The regulation of assisted human reproduction in Canada has had a long and tortuous history. Twenty one years after a Royal Commission appointed by the federal government recommended legislation (1), and following several failed attempts to get legislation through the Canadian parliament, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act 2004 came into force (2)... [Read More]

News Digest

Boost to egg and sperm donations needed, says HFEA

16 April 2012

By Dr Rosie Morley

Appeared in BioNews 652
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has launched a new strategy to increase awareness of egg and sperm donation and to improve the care of donors. It aims to address perceived obstacles to donor recruitment aired during its consultation on gamete donation last year.

The HFEA will set up the National Donation Strategy Group to review the current system of donation and to suggest improvements, which could help boost donor numbers. Professor Lisa Jardine, chair of the HFEA, said: 'We are using our unique position as the national regulator to bring together a wide range of expertise to gather valuable knowledge that will help us build a better environment for donation'.

According to HFEA statistics, around one in six couples in the UK are affected by infertility, many of whom could be helped by the donation of eggs or sperm. The HFEA says demand for donor treatment in the UK is greater than the supply of donors and following a review of its donation policies has agreed to take a more 'proactive role' to improve donor recruitment and retention.

The new strategy seeks to increase awareness of donation and improve information provided to donors. The strategy group will investigate options designed to achieve this aim. One potential source of gametes is from women undergoing IVF, as the treatment will often stimulate a woman to produce more eggs than they will use. 'Now some of them choose to freeze those for further attempts but there may well be more eggs than that, in which case donating them to another woman who doesn't have viable eggs of her own is the most extraordinary gift', said Professor Jardine.

Another aim of the strategy group will be to look at ways to help donors to provide more information about themselves, for the benefit of the recipient parents and future children. In addition, the HFEA wants to address the 'customer service' that donors receive in clinics. Ms Laura Witjens, chair of the National Gamete Donation Trust, said that the strategy group 'will ensure that donors are properly looked after and valued for their commitments'.

Critics have responded that donors should not be further encouraged to donate. 'It's one thing to incur risks for your own fertility treatment', said Mrs Josephine Quintavalle, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics. '[It is] quite another to be exposed to those risks for the benefit of other mothers'.

The decision to set up the strategy group follows the launch of a new policy in October 2011, which increased the compensation offered to donors. Egg donors are now offered £750 per cycle and sperm donors £35 per visit. The policy came into force on 1 April.


Egg and sperm donors: HFEA in drive to increase numbers
BBC | 05 April 2012

Egg donation encouragement urged
Press Association | 04 April 2012

Fertility authority aims to boost donations
Financial Times | 04 April 2012

Fertility regulator launches strategy to boost egg and sperm donation
HFEA | 04 April 2012

Sperm and egg donation 'should be like giving blood'
Telegraph | 04 April 2012


Egg donors mostly motivated by urge to help others
09 July 2013 - by Siobhan Chan
The majority of egg donors donate for altruistic reasons, although personal benefits such as financial compensation are also a factor, according to a large European study... [Read More]
Danish sperm donation law tightened after donor passes on rare genetic disease
01 October 2012 - by Ayesha Ahmad
The Danish Government is currently reviewing its guidelines on sperm donation policies following the discovery that a donor has passed on a rare genetic condition to at least five children... [Read More]
TV Review: What's My Body Worth?
28 August 2012 - by Daniel Malynn
In this documentary of extremes, freelance journalist and documentary producer Storm Theunissen finds out how cash-strapped Britons can make money using their bodies. On one side, you have Storm's outlandish plans to make money by selling urine and earwax for medical testing. On the other, there is an altogether more interesting and insightful look at egg donation in both the UK and USA.... [Read More]
Spot the odd one out: The missing place at the donor conception table
23 July 2012 - by Dr Marilyn Crawshaw and Jennie Hunt
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) recently announced membership of its newly formed National Donation Strategy Group, set up in response to the findings of its earlier Donation Review, which, it says, uncovered numerous barriers to gamete donation.... [Read More]
The Daily Mail has got Altrui and egg donation wrong
21 May 2012 - by Alison Bagshawe
A recent article in the Daily Mail about Altrui's information campaign towards students at Cambridge University typifies popular press reporting at its worst and exemplifies some recurring myths about egg donation... [Read More]

Ireland's sperm banks hit by euro crisis
27 February 2012 - by Ayesha Ahmad
The exchange rate between the euro and Denmark's krone is causing a crisis for the sperm banking business in Ireland, reports the Irish Independent.... [Read More]
Sperm donor told to halt production by US regulator
12 December 2011 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh
A man in the United States is reportedly being investigated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after offering his sperm for donation. Trent Arsenault, a 36 year-old computer security expert from California, has set up a website offering his sperm without charge to anyone who wishes to use it to have a baby.... [Read More]
Of family and finance: Israeli citizens without rights and HFEA remuneration
12 December 2011 - by Dr Ruth Shidlo
Living in Israel, where gamete donor anonymity still rules supreme, I confess I envy the UK's clear focus on the welfare of the donor conceived child and the evolution of the legal rights of offspring... [Read More]
European Court of Human Rights upholds Austria's ban on egg or sperm donation for IVF
14 November 2011 - by Jessica Ware
IVF using donated egg or sperm other than from a spouse will remain banned in Austria. This was the final decision made by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (the Court) on 3 November in the closing of the case SH and others v Austria.... [Read More]
A private sperm donor writes...
31 October 2011 - by Andrew Proven Donor
A shortfall in donated sperm, we are told, has pushed potential recipients onto websites where private sperm donors hawk their reproductive wares. If only the officially sanctioned sperm banks were well stocked, the thinking goes, women would not have to venture into that murky world. But is that correct? What if sperm donation outside the official channels actually carried certain advantages over the clinic system... [Read More]

Rome hospital criticised for destruction of 94 embryos

16 April 2012

By Dr Daniel Grimes

Appeared in BioNews 652
Italian Health Minister Renato Balduzzi has ordered an investigation of a fertility clinic at the San Filippo Neri hospital in Rome after a mechanical failure led to the destruction of 94 frozen embryos, 130 eggs, and five sperm samples.

The temperature in a freezer housing the embryos reportedly rose from minus 196 degrees Celsius to plus 20 degrees Celsius after nitrogen used to keep the temperature stable was 'no longer there'. Around 40 patients, some of whom have indicated they may take legal action, have been affected by the incident. Italian officials have said all the women involved still have a chance of conceiving.

Domenico Alessio, director of the Italian hospital, blamed the French industrial gas firm Air Liquide who supply the hospital with liquid nitrogen. 'It's Air Liquide's responsibility', Alessio told the Il Messaggero daily newspaper. However, talking to La Stampa, the director conceded that an alarm was triggered by the rising temperature inside the freezer where the embryos were stored but 'no-one heard it' because the freezer was in the basement.

In a statement, Air Liquide said, 'We are profoundly sorry for this event'. The company confirmed it will 'pay out compensation if its responsibility is confirmed'. Air Liquide, which has begun its own internal inquiry, said it is 'providing maximum cooperation with the hospital to help identify the cause of the problem'.

According to the Italian news agency AGI (Agenzia Giornalistica Italia - Italian Journalist Agency), an inspection of the facility carried out by experts from Italy's National Centre for Transplants concluded that 'organisation at the centre is far from ideal'. It continued: 'There are no quality assurance systems in place, structures and routine checks on structures are inadequate and monitoring operations reveal serious shortcomings'.

The investigations are ongoing.


Embryos destroyed in Italy
KSNT | 03/2012

French firm blamed for Italy frozen embryo accident
The Sun Daily | 03 March 2012

Italy orders inquiry into embryo destruction
Telegraph | 03/2012

Shortcomings emerge at Rome hospital after embryo incident | 03 April 2012


Italian court lifts ban on donated sperm and eggs in fertility treatment
14 April 2014 - by Siobhan Chan
Italy's constitutional court has lifted a ban on the use of donor sperm and eggs for assisted conception, saying it was 'unconstitutional'... [Read More]
Putting a 'kilt on Yearworth': Holdich v Lothian Health Board [2013]
27 January 2014 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza
The Outer House of the Court of Session in Scotland has allowed a claim for compensation brought by a man whose sperm may have been damaged by a failure of a storage vessel to proceed to a full trial.... [Read More]

Vatican cancels stem cell research conference
02 April 2012 - by Jessica Ware
The Vatican has cancelled a stem cell research conference scheduled to take place next month, citing a lack of participants... [Read More]
Another blunder at IVF Wales as donor eggs are destroyed
28 November 2011 - by Julianna Photopoulos
Another blunder at IVF Wales in Cardiff destroyed a batch of 'exceptional' eggs only hours after they were donated, leaving a couple devastated... [Read More]
Accidental destruction of sperm samples at Cardiff IVF clinic
21 November 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas
Apologies have been issued by a Welsh IVF clinic following the accidental destruction of three patients' sperm samples. The samples, known as straws, were collected from patients undergoing treatments for blood disorders and cancer that may affect their fertility. An investigation is underway as to why no senior staff were informed when the samples were destroyed in March this year... [Read More]
IVF blunders doubled in one year
04 May 2010 - by Seil Collins
The number of reported mistakes at IVF centres in England and Wales has doubled over one year, rising from 182 in 2007/08 to 334 in 2008/09. Incidents range from technical failures to serious mix-ups. Cases where embryos have been lost, implanted into the wrong patient, or fertilised with the wrong sperm have all been reported.... [Read More]

Scientist allegedly fathered 600 children at own sperm clinic

16 April 2012

By Cait McDonagh

Appeared in BioNews 652
A British scientist who ran a fertility clinic in London from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, used his own sperm and may have fathered hundreds of children, it has been claimed.

The Barton clinic, run by Dr Bertold Wiesner and his wife Dr Mary Barton helped to conceive around 1,500 children. Genetic tests carried out on 18 of these people in 2007 showed that two thirds were Dr Wiesner's biological children.

Now, two of the children conceived at the clinic, Mr David Gollancz, a barrister from London, and Mr Barry Stevens, a film maker from Canada, have extrapolated this figure to suggest he could have fathered up to 600 children. They are currently making a documentary about donor-conceived children.

'A conservative estimate is that he would have been making 20 donations a year', Gollancz told the Sunday Times. 'Using standard figures for the number of live births which result, including allowances for twins and miscarriages, I estimate that he is responsible for between 300 and 600 children'.

According to Dr Allan Pacey, an expert in male fertility at University of Sheffield, this is 'plausible' as a healthy man could make up to 50 donations a year.

However, current legislation restricts the number of donations a man can make, due to the risk of two offspring meeting, as their children could have serious genetic problems. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act states that each donor can create up to ten families; there are no restrictions on the number of children per family.

It is believed that due to a shortage of donors Dr Wiesner provided the majority of samples.

The Barton Clinic promised to provide sperm only from 'intelligent' donors, and many of the donations were supplied by family friends. In 2001, one donor, neurochemist Derek Richter, was found to have fathered over 100 children through the Barton Clinic.

According to the Huffington Post, Dr Barton destroyed the clinic's medical records and so those conceived through donations made at the Barton Clinic have no way of finding details about their biological father. Dr Wiesner died in 1972 and Dr Barton later in 2001.


Bertold Wiesner, British Man 'Fathered Between 600 – 1,000 Children At Own Clinic'
Huffington Post | 09 April 2012

British man 'fathered 600 children' at own fertility clinic
Telegraph | 08 April 2012

British scientist 'fathered 600 children' by donating sperm at his own fertility clinic
Daily Mail | 09 April 2012

British sperm donor may have fathered 600 children at own clinic
Metro | 08 April 2012


Film Review: Fonzy
10 February 2014 - by James Brooks
Fonzy doesn't so much apply the formula of sperm-donor comedy 'Starbuck' as drop it like a concrete slab on an entirely different cultural context... [Read More]
Fertility clinic worker's sperm swap uncovered by child's DIY gene test
13 January 2014 - by Ari Haque
A couple who used artificial insemination services at a Utah fertility clinic have found out that their daughter, Ashley, is in fact the genetic daughter of a former clinic worker... [Read More]
Prolific private sperm donor arrested on charges of sexual assault
07 May 2013 - by Ari Haque
A man who claims to have fathered 49 children as a private sperm donor has been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault... [Read More]
Book Review: Sperm Counts - Overcome by Man's Most Precious Fluid
28 May 2012 - by Edwin Davies
The fluidity of semen is an idea that Lisa Jean Moore returns to throughout her book 'Sperm Counts: Overcome by Man's Most Precious Fluid', though she is often less concerned with the physical qualities of the substance than she is with its fluidity as a concept... [Read More]
A call by the Donor Sibling Registry to stop using the figures of 30,000 - 60,000 US sperm donor births
08 May 2012 - by Wendy Kramer
In 1988 the Office of Technology Assessment estimated that 30,000 children were born via donor insemination during the year 1986/87 in the US. A quarter of a century - and no further research - later, '30,000 annual births' is still trotted out in academia, lectures and the media... [Read More]

Sperm donor told to halt production by US regulator
12 December 2011 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh
A man in the United States is reportedly being investigated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) after offering his sperm for donation. Trent Arsenault, a 36 year-old computer security expert from California, has set up a website offering his sperm without charge to anyone who wishes to use it to have a baby.... [Read More]
Sperm donor fathers 17 families and breaks UK limits
26 September 2011 - by Jessica Ware
The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the UK's fertility regulator, has admitted breaches of the sperm donation limit have occurred, following news that one donor has fathered 17 families... [Read More]
Sperm donor had 24 kids and a fatal genetic mutation
01 August 2011 - by Rose Palmer
A man who fathered at least 24 children by sperm donation in the US failed to inform fertility clinics that he had a rare genetic defect which is often fatal, ABC news has reported... [Read More]
Fertility doctor accused of substituting own sperm for patient's husband's
22 November 2009 - by Ailsa Stevens
A fertility doctor based in Greenwich, Connecticut, has been allowed to practice for seven years after being found guilty of using the wrong man's sperm to fertilise one of his IVF patient's eggs and further accused by one of his former patients of substituting his own sperm for her husband's in the conception of their two twin girls. The case was drawn to a close in 2005, when the clinician in question was forced to pay a $10,000 fine, but had been kept a secret until the information was dis... [Read More]

IVF can't beat biological clock, warns Yale fertility expert

16 April 2012

By Cathy Holding

Appeared in BioNews 652
A leading fertility expert in the USA has warned of young women's serious misconceptions about their own fertility.

Writing in the journal Fertility and Sterility, Professor Pasquale Patrizio, from Yale School of Medicine and director of the Yale Fertility Centre, says that clinicians should 'begin educating women more aggressively' - but goes further. He argues that young women who choose to delay motherhood for whatever reason should be offered the opportunity to have their eggs frozen as an act of preventive medicine.

The growing popularity of assisted reproductive technology, fuelled by newspaper headlines and television specials of women having babies later in life, means that many women believe that they can turn to IVF at any time and conceive, says Dr Patrizio. IVF success rates fall dramatically with increasing age but most women are only vaguely aware of this.

'We are really seeing more and more patients 'upset' after failing in having their own biological child after age 43 so we had to report on this', says Dr Patrizio. 'Their typical reaction is, "what do you mean you cannot help me? I am healthy, I exercise, and I cannot have my own baby?"'

In his paper, Dr Patrizio highlights the fact that the success rate of IVF treatment using donated eggs is unaffected by the recipient's age up to the late 40s. As current egg freezing and preservation techniques now achieve outcomes similar to those achieved with fresh oocytes, the 'experimental' tag should be removed from such technologies, says Dr Patrizio, and they should be made more widely available to younger women.

The choice to delay motherhood must be based on a full understanding of all the consequences, Dr Patrizio reasons. Age-related infertility should be regarded as a medical problem, he says, and society needs to banish the view that 'social' or 'elective' egg preservation (where eggs are preserved for reasons not related to health problems) is selfish and uncaring.


A persistent misperception: assisted reproductive technology can reverse the “aged biological clock”
Fertility and Sterility | 03 March 2012

Biological Clock Ticks Despite Technology
Scientific American | 11 April 2012

Women cannot rewind the 'biological clock'
EurekAlert! | 05 April 2012

Women of 40 told: you cannot turn back baby clock
Express | 07 April 2012

Women over 40 told: 'Don't take IVF success for granted'
Mail Online | 06 April 2012


Event Review: Bonking Baby Boomers and the Future of Sex
24 March 2014 - by Dr Lucy Freem
The annual Society for Reproduction and Fertility's 'Sex in 3 Cities' lecture series was given this year by John Aitken, Laureate professor of biological sciences at the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, with the title 'Bonking baby boomers and the future of sex'.... [Read More]
Every step of IVF affected by woman's age
16 December 2013 - by Kimberley Bryon-Dodd
The first study to break down IVF failure rates for each treatment stage across different age groups has found that after the age of 37 the chance of a woman becoming pregnant through IVF rapidly declines... [Read More]
Survey highlights growing trend to late motherhood and 'emotional infertility'
10 September 2012 - by Dr Rosie Morley
Less than a fifth of women worry about being too old to have children, according to a recent survey by Red magazine.... [Read More]
Under right conditions, IVF approaches birth rates of natural conception
02 July 2012 - by Dr Sarah Spain
For the first time, researchers in the USA have calculated cumulative success rates of infertility treatments that use IVF or assisted reproductive technologies (ART), and have showed that overall success rates come close to that of natural conception.... [Read More]

Ovarian stimulation linked to egg abnormalities in older mothers
04 July 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas
European researchers have linked ovarian stimulation in women aged over 35 to increased chromosomal abnormalities. Genetic screening shows that the production of oocytes is disrupted during fertility treatment involving ovarian stimulation... [Read More]
Women should be given better fertility information, suggests report
31 January 2011 - by Tamara Hirsch
A recent review paper has emphasised the need for improved provision of fertility information, especially regarding age-associated risks, as the trend for women having children later in life continues.... [Read More]
New insight into why egg abnormalities occur in older women
06 September 2010 - by Chris Chatterton
Researchers from Newcastle University have announced that they have a better understanding of 'why older women are more likely to produce abnormal eggs, increasing the risk of infertility... [Read More]
Women freeze eggs for career reasons or to await Mr Right, studies find
28 June 2010 - by Harriet Vickers
A large number of female university students say they would undergo egg freezing to allow time to build a career, a relationship, or become financially stable. However, older women who go through the procedure say it is because they want time to find the right man... [Read More]
Oldest UK woman to have IVF cancels her treatment
24 May 2010 - by Harriet Vickers
A 59 year-old woman has backed out of IVF treatment at the last minute, as she feels the risks at her age are too great... [Read More]

British lab working with controversial stem cell doctor

16 April 2012

By Ana Pallesen

Appeared in BioNews 652
A commercial London laboratory is working with a clinic in Lebanon that uses medical techniques that are not verified by the medical community, and fall outside most countries' legal parameters.

The Cells4health clinic is run by Dr Cornelis Kleinbloesem, former owner of the XCell-Center in Germany, which was shut down in 2011 after a child died following a stem cell injection into his brain, according to the Telegraph. A legal loophole is now allowing Dr Kleinbloesem to operate his clinic in Beirut.

Dr Kleinbloesem's clinic takes cells from the patient's bone marrow and sends them to the UK Precious Cells laboratory for processing. After this, the stem cells are sent back to Lebanon and injected into the patient to regenerate damaged tissue. Precious Cells is licensed by the Human Tissue Authority to extract and bank stem cells, but could not legally use them to treat patients in the UK.

Lab owner Dr Husein Salem told the Sunday Telegraph he has confidence in Dr Kleinbloesem's abilities, and having visited Cells4health in Beirut, said he would recommend this clinic.

'We are involved in research and development in Beirut', Dr Salem told the Telegraph. 'The current situation is a lot of treatments are not approved in the UK. They are not clinically proven. You have to go to Beirut for treatment. There was a centre in Germany but they shut down'.

He added: 'If we felt it wasn't right we would end our contract'.

People are made aware that the methods, costing tens of thousands of pounds, are unproven and that there is no guarantee of success. However, there are concerns surrounding Dr Kleinbloesem's previous clinic in Germany, where an 18-month-old patient died and a ten-year-old almost died after treatment in 2011.

Furthermore, some believe the clinic could take advantage of people at their most susceptible. In 2010 Ms Ira Herrmann, head of the German stem cell network, spoke to News Point South Africa about the previous clinic, saying: 'XCell was offering unproven treatments and taking a lot of money from very vulnerable people'.

Dr Kleinbloesem claims that powerful lobby groups are battling his revolutionary treatment for economic reasons. In an email to patients he said: 'Our work which has all our spirit and was our life was ruined by false accusations'.

He went on to describe his clinic's passion for adult stem cell therapy, saying they 'love this work to be able to help many patients around the globe, who are desperate for this breakthrough treatment'.


Controversial Stem Cell Clinic
News Point South Africa | 08 April 2012

Controversial stem cell doctor takes advantage of legal loophole to have samples from his patients processed in the UK
Daily Mail | 08 April 2012

Europe's largest stem cell clinic shut down after death of baby
Telegraph | 08 May 2011

Stem cell clinic that 'preyed on the vulnerable’
Telegraph | 08 April 2012


Vatican cancels stem cell research conference
02 April 2012 - by Jessica Ware
The Vatican has cancelled a stem cell research conference scheduled to take place next month, citing a lack of participants... [Read More]
US stem cell company given green light for blindness trials
06 February 2012 - by Ruth Retassie
US company StemCells Inc have received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorisation to carry out clinical trials of their treatment for one of the leading causes of blindness in over 55-year-olds... [Read More]
California clinic to perform stem cell procedure amid FDA lawsuit
06 February 2012 - by Maria Botcharova
A clinic in California has announced that its doctors are licensed and trained to carry out a stem cell treatment for chronic pain. Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is pursuing a lawsuit against Regenerative Sciences, the company that developed the technique... [Read More]
Controversial stem cell centre closes
23 May 2011 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza
A controversial stem cell therapy center operating out of Dusseldorf and Cologne, Germany, has closed. The news follows an undercover investigation by the Sunday Telegraph which claimed that the clinic offered unproven and dangerous stem cell therapies.... [Read More]

Gene therapy shows early success in Parkinson's trial

16 April 2012

By Kimberley Bryon-Dodd

Appeared in BioNews 652
A woman with Parkinson's disease is reportedly able to write again for the first time in 15 years after receiving pioneering gene therapy at Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge. Mrs Shelia Roy took part in an early stage clinical trial of ProSavin - a treatment developed by biopharmaceutical company, Oxford BioMedica.

Roy was diagnosed with Parkinson's 17 years ago in her mid 40s. During the trial, a modified virus was injected into Roy's brain containing coding instructions for dopamine-producing proteins. Patients with Parkinson's have a lack of dopamine in the brain which leads to symptoms including tremors and an inability to co-ordinate movement. This can make even everyday tasks - like writing - very difficult.

Speaking of her experience, Roy said: 'Parkinson's disease changes the ability and capability of the individual affected. You lose confidence, dignity and hope. The [treatment] has given me hope'. Although Roy's experience is an encouraging result, scientists have warned that it may still be at least five years before ProSavin becomes available.

Dr Philip Buttery, from the Cambridge Centre for Brain Repair, University of Cambridge, told Sky News that while the treatment was still in its early stages the results look promising. 'It seems to be having an overall beneficial effect in smoothing out people's days, probably allowing a slight dose reduction in medication, and in some patients a better sleep pattern and a better quality of life for all', he said.

Roy took part in a small Phase I/II clinical trial with 14 other people with mid-stage Parkinson's who were no longer responding well to existing treatments. Five additional patients in the UK received a high dose of ProSavin. Although the trial was designed to test the dose needed and the safety of the treatment, when assessed these patients showed an average 29 percent improvement in motor function over a three month period. Larger studies are now needed to confirm these results.

Commenting on the results, Dr Kieran Breen, director of research and innovation at the charity Parkinson's UK, said: 'Gene therapies hold great promise for people with Parkinson's in the future, as they could mean an end to the daily regime of drugs that most people with the condition currently face'.

He added: 'In addition to ProSavin, there are three other gene therapy trials under way at the moment. So far all the therapies appear to be safe - now the challenge is to see whether they are more effective than the medications we already have for Parkinson's'.


Gene therapy helps woman to write
Press Association | 12 April 2012

New hope for Parkinson's disease
ITV News | 13 April 2012

Parkinson's disease sufferer can write for the first time in 15 years thanks to new gene therapy
Mail Online | 12 April 2012

Revolutionary New Treatment For Parkinson's
Sky News | 12 April 2012


Gene therapy promising in Parkinson's patients
10 January 2014 - by Kimberley Bryon-Dodd
Patients in a clinical trial to treat Parkinson's disease with a form of gene therapy have showed signs of significant improvements in their motor-function, according to a report published in the Lancet... [Read More]
Gene therapy trials for heart failure launched
07 May 2013 - by Siobhan Chan
Gene therapy will be used to treat heart failure for the first time in the UK, in clinical trials being launched by the British Heart Foundation... [Read More]
Study counters Parkinson's disease gene theory
25 March 2013 - by Helen Brooks
An experimental approach to treating Parkinson's disease may need to be reconsidered following evidence suggesting that it may make patients worse... [Read More]
Gene therapy approved in Europe for first time
05 November 2012 - by Lucy Harris
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has approved Glybera, a gene therapy to treat a rare genetic condition, lipoprotein lipase deficiency (LPLD), for sale across Europe. Glybera is the first gene therapy to be approved for the Western market and offers the first therapeutic treatment for people with LPLD.... [Read More]
Gene therapy in mice restores sense of smell
10 September 2012 - by Holly Rogers
Scientists have restored the sense of smell in mice using a gene therapy designed to repair the cilia - hair-like formations on nasal cells that are important in olfaction... [Read More]

Parkin gene researchers grow Parkinson's brain cells in lab
13 February 2012 - by George Frodsham
Human brain cells with Parkinson's disease have been successfully grown in a Petri dish, allowing researchers to study them in unprecedented detail. Researchers used a technique in which skin cells are transformed into induced pluripotent stem cells, which can then be made to change into any cell type – in this case, neurons... [Read More]
Gene therapy trial for Parkinson's disease
28 March 2011 - by Alison Cranage
For the first time, gene therapy has shown promise for people with severe Parkinson's disease. Results from a proof of concept clinical trial in the US were published in the journal Lancet Neurology... [Read More]
Gene therapy could remedy Parkinson's
19 October 2009 - by Alison Cranage
A gene therapy for Parkinson's disease that has been tested on monkeys is showing promising early results in a small-scale trial on humans. French researchers reported their findings in the new journal Science Translational Medicine last week.... [Read More]
Skin-derived stem cells treat Parkinson's disease in rats
14 April 2008 - by Evelyn Harvey
Nerve tissue derived from stem cells made from reprogrammed skin developed into normal brain tissue and relieved symptoms of Parkinson's disease in rats, in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS) last week. Scientists at the Whitehead... [Read More]

Gene variants linked to childhood obesity discovered

16 April 2012

By Oliver Timmis

Appeared in BioNews 652
Two new genetic variants that could increase the risk of childhood obesity have been identified in the largest ever genome-wide study of the disease.

In contrast to previous studies looking at extreme forms of obesity, this research focused on common childhood obesity, said Dr Struan Grant, study author and Associate Director at the Center for Applied Genomics at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Obesity is unlikely to be caused purely by genetics, but the presence of these two gene variants, which Dr Grant says are 'very common in the population', may increase the likelihood of becoming obese in the early years of life. He suggests the alterations may function in the intestinal tract and influencing the activity of natural bacteria.

The study, published in Nature Genetics, combined data from 14 studies conducted in the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe. In total, the genomes of 5,530 obese children and 8,318 non-obese controls were analysed.

They identified two variants - one near a gene on chromosome 13, and one near a gene on chromosome 17.

'Certain kids, even in the best environments, are prone to be obese because of genetics. Actually identifying the genes really helps', said Karen Winer, of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in an interview with Time Healthland.

However, the gene variants are not guaranteed to make a child obese; while they may increase the risk, weight gain is still thought to be largely due to environmental factors. As such, researchers advise that a healthy lifestyle, exercising and eating the right foods is still the best way to avoid obesity.


A genome-wide association meta-analysis identifies new childhood obesity loci
Nature Genetics | 08 April 2012

Childhood obesity genes identified, scientists say
CBS News | 08 April 2012

Childhood Obesity: Scientists Find Two Gene Variants that Predispose Kids to Weight Gain Read
Time | 09 April 2012

Genes identified for common childhood obesity
Eurekalert | 08 April 2012

Obese Kids: Genes and Junk Food Share Blame
ABC MedPage Today | 09 April 2012


Slow metabolism gene could lead to childhood obesity
28 October 2013 - by Rachel Brown
A number of rare mutations in a gene that helps regulate how the body burns calories has been linked to an increased appetite and childhood obesity, according to a study from the University of Cambridge... [Read More]

'Gluttony gene' stops mice feeling full
26 March 2012 - by Kimberley Bryon-Dodd
A mutation in a gene linked to obesity causes mice to eat up to 80 percent more than normal... [Read More]
Mouse study finds an anti-cancer gene could also prevent obesity
19 March 2012 - by Linda Wijlaars
A gene known to protect from cancer might also prevent obesity, scientists say. The researchers had set out to search for a link between the Pten gene and a longer lifespan in mice, but to their surprise, a double dose of the gene also led the mice to be thinner than their normal counterparts... [Read More]
Exercise outweighs 'fat' genes
07 November 2011 - by Marianne Neary
When it comes to our weight, there is no need to wallow in the gene pool. Scientists have found that physical activity lessens the link between genes and obesity... [Read More]
Scientists uncover 'key gene' linked to regulation of body fat
23 May 2011 - by Kimberley Bryon-Dodd
Scientists say they have found a 'master regulator' gene, KLF14, which controls how active some fat metabolism genes are in your fat cells.... [Read More]

Lab-grown egg cells could be fertilised 'within the year' if licence is granted

16 April 2012

By Rosemary Paxman

Appeared in BioNews 652
The first human egg cells grown in the laboratory from stem cells (reported in BioNews 646) could be fertilised later this year, scientists report.

Researchers are now intending to seek permission from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to fertilise the eggs in order to test whether they are viable. Should such a study be successful, it would represent a breakthrough in fertility research and could open the door to greatly enhanced fertility for many women.

'We hope to apply for a research license to do the fertilisation of the in vitro-grown oocytes within the IVF unit at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary', said Dr Evelyn Telfer, reproductive biologist at the University of Edinburgh.

The new technique, developed by researchers from Edinburgh University and Harvard Medical School in the USA grows human egg cells using stem cells from donated, frozen ovaries.

Should an HFEA licence be granted and the research go ahead, any fertilised eggs would not be transplanted into the womb, but studied for the legal limit of 14 days before being frozen or allowed to die.

Dr Telfer said that the study could take place later this year. Discussing the research, she said: 'If you can show you can get ovarian stem cells from the human ovary you then have the potential to do more for fertility preservation'.

However, some scientists are sceptical of the claims made in the original paper claiming human egg cells had been derived from ovarian stem cells. Writing in BioNews last month, Dr Robin Lovell-Badge, head of stem cell biology and developmental genetics at the MRC National Institute for Medical Research in London said that even if that study was accurate, 'the authors are a long way from testing the safety and efficiency' of the technique.

Dr Lovell-Badge added that even though research to test these parameters 'is possible with a licence, it would require a change in primary legislation to permit their use for reproductive purposes, which in itself would take several years'.


Experts eye fertility breakthrough
Press Association | 08 April 2012

Human egg cells grown in lab 'could be fertilised'
Telegraph | 07 April 2012

Lab-grown human egg cells could be fertilised
Metro | 07 April 2012

Scientists rewrite rules of human reproduction
Independent | 09 April 2012

Scientists to apply for licence to fertilise human eggs grown in laboratory
Scotsman | 08 April 2012


An eggsample of why it is hard to prove a negative
30 July 2012 - by Professor Robin Lovell-Badge
Earlier this year, a paper claimed to have found cells, called ovarian stem cells, in the adult ovaries of both mice and humans. These cells could apparently be grown in large numbers in the lab and could retain the ability to give rise to eggs. A new study finds no evidence for the existence of germline progenitors able to produce eggs in postnatal ovaries. Is a lack of evidence sufficient to win the argument?... [Read More]
Eye precursor and tiny liver grown from stem cells
25 June 2012 - by Dr Daniel Grimes
Human embryonic stem cells have, for the first time, been used to grow a crucial part of the eye, a paper in Cell Stem Cell reports. It is hoped that in the future transplantation of such tissue could help visually impaired people recover their sight... [Read More]

Hype, hope and heresy – or why it is bad to eggsaggerate
12 March 2012 - by Professor Robin Lovell-Badge
I am all for challenging dogma, but to do so requires robust evidence and carefully drawn conclusions. In the case of Professor Jonathan Tilly's much-trumpeted study on stem cells in ovaries that can give rise to eggs, I feel that both were missing... [Read More]
IVF chances boosted by 10 percent using new procedure
05 March 2012 - by Linda Wijlaars
Protecting embryos from a laboratory environment during IVF treatment could increase successful pregnancy rates from 35 percent to 45 percent. A novel system, trialled in a recent study, consists of a chain of fully enclosed, interlinked incubators, provides a tightly controlled and protected environment... [Read More]
Eggs could be produced from ovarian stem cells, study suggests
27 February 2012 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza
Scientists in the USA have shown it may be possible to isolate egg-producing stem cells from women's ovaries.... [Read More]
Eggs grown in laboratory may offer fertility hope for young cancer patients
06 June 2011 - by Dr Charlotte Maden
British scientists have grown mature eggs from undeveloped ones in the laboratory and are currently seeking permission to fertilise them. The new research gives hope to young girls undergoing treatment for cancer that may leave them infertile... [Read More]

Genetic mutations in older fathers' sperm linked to autism

16 April 2012

By James Brooks

Appeared in BioNews 652
Genetic mutations that occur spontaneously in sperm and egg cells may increase a child's risk of autism, say scientists.

These 'point mutations' are more likely to occur in sperm as men age, and the research, published in the journal Nature, fits in with previous work showing that older men are more likely to father children with the disorder. Everyone has point mutations in their DNA and most are harmless, but where they occur in important genes they can cause problems.

'These results confirm that it's not the size of the genetic anomaly that confers risk, but its location – specifically in biochemical pathways involved in brain development and neural connections', said Dr Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health in the US, which funded the work.

Despite the research highlighting the importance of non-inherited genes, three of the four mutations discussed in the paper were identified after gene sequencing of 549 families where both parents and the child tested were autistic. The mutations may increase a carrier's risk of developing autism by five to 20 times.

The study is published alongside two other studies investigating the role of point mutations in autism. Professor Joseph Buxbaum from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and co-author of one of the studies, told Reuters that the three studies combined suggested that in total between 600 and 1,200 genes may contribute to the likelihood of whether people develop the condition.

One of the three studies, led by Dr Evan Eichler at the University of Washington in Seattle in the US, showed that the point mutations were four times more likely to occur in sperm cells rather than in egg cells. Dr Eichler told Reuters that the frequency of these genetic glitches developing is 'primarily driven by dad's age. That makes sense. As you get older, there are more and more chances for problems'.

The UK's National Autistic Society describes autism as 'a developmental disability affecting how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people and the world around them'. It encompasses a spectrum of disorders and people with autism range from those with a severe inability to communicate to those with Asperger's syndrome, a milder form.

Autism is a complex condition and the factors that may cause it have yet to be understood. 'Prior to the advent of new DNA sequencing technology, we were largely wandering in the dark searching for autism genes', said Professor Matthew State, of Yale School of Medicine and a co-author of one the Nature papers. 'Now we are getting a clear view of the genetic landscape and finally have the tools in hand to find a large proportion of the many genes contributing to autism'.


De novo mutations revealed by whole-exome sequencing are strongly associated with autism
Nature | 04 April 2012

Gene studies begin to unravel autism puzzle
Reuters | 04 April 2012

Is autism in children down to mutation in sperm that's more common in older fathers?
Mail Online | 05 April 2012

Patterns and rates of exonic de novo mutations in autism spectrum disorders
Nature | 04 April 2012

Spontaneous gene glitches linked to autism risk with older dads
EurekAlert! | 04 April 2012

Sporadic autism exomes reveal a highly interconnected protein network of de novo mutations
Nature | 04 April 2012


Older fathers may pass autism risk to grandchildren
25 March 2013 - by Matthew Thomas
Men who father children later in life are more likely to have grandchildren with autism, according to research... [Read More]
Twenty-five genetic variants for autism discovered
21 January 2013 - by Victoria Burchell
Rare genetic variants may have a significant impact on a person's risk of developing autism, research suggests... [Read More]
Genetic test developed to predict the risk of autism
17 September 2012 - by Victoria Burchell
A genetic test capable of predicting a person's risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), with an accuracy greater than 70 percent, has been developed by researchers... [Read More]
Rare form of autism treated with dietary supplement
10 September 2012 - by Suzanne Elvidge
A rare form of autism, caused by a mutation that alters amino acid metabolism, could potentially be treated with a nutritional supplement, according to an international team of researchers... [Read More]
Stem cell therapy for autism gets clinical trial go-ahead
28 August 2012 - by Nishat Hyder
Stem cells harvested from patients' own umbilical cord blood are to be trialled in the US as treatment for children with autism... [Read More]

Genetics of uncontrolled brain growth in autism identified
26 March 2012 - by Dr Rosie Morley
Faulty genetic mechanisms particularly active in early life may lead to people developing autism, research suggests... [Read More]
Complex genetics of autism unveiled
13 June 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas
American researchers have linked hundreds of spontaneous genetic mutations to the group of psychological syndromes called autism spectrum disorders (ASDs)... [Read More]
Genes, autism and brain structure
31 May 2011 - by Mehmet Fidanboylu
Gene activity in two brain regions is different in autism, scientists say. A US study found activity patterns were similar in the frontal and temporal lobes of people with autism, despite the lobes having different functions... [Read More]
School Resource Pack Review: Spectrum of Opinion - Genes, Autism and Psychological Spectrum Disorders
03 May 2011 - by Ata Anane
Autism spectrum disorders are rarely out of the headlines. Take, for example, reports of last year's 'breakthrough' in the diagnosis of autism and the infamous research of Andrew Wakefield. This resource pack brings this public and medical debate into the classroom and makes it suitable for students over 16 years of age... [Read More]


Exhibition Review: Palaces

16 April 2012

By George Frodsham

Appeared in BioNews 652


Science Museum, 165 Queen's Gate, South Kensington, London SW7 5HD, UK


A palace made out of children's teeth? It sounds like an idea taken straight from a horror story, and yet this is how Liverpool-based artist Gina Czarnecki hopes to raise awareness about stem cell research.

Palaces - a slightly misleading title, as it consists of only the one sculpture - is a joint venture between Czarnecki and Professor Sara Rankin, whose seminar inspired the project. It is displayed in the 'Who Am I?' gallery at the Science Museum, London.

Czarnecki was particularly fascinated by the many potential biomedical applications of stem cells, and intrigued by the idea that they can be found in parts of the body that are often considered surplus to requirements. Although famously isolated from embryos, Professor Rankin explained that stem cells are also found in 'fat from liposuction, umbilical cords, or indeed baby teeth'.

At first glance, the two metre high clear crystal resin structure is eerily beautiful - a fantastical melange of twisted tentacle-like towers and stalagmites. But a closer look reveals small colonies of glued-on milk teeth, forming coral-like structures. It is early days, but Czarnecki has launched an appeal for children around the world to donate their milk teeth to the artwork (with the tooth fairy rewarding the charitable donation, naturally). And so, Palaces should grow and evolve over time, not unlike a coral reef.

Upon first noticing the teeth, one is rather taken aback. There is something slightly morbid about seeing parts of the human body as part of such a dramatic structure, and more teeth will presumably increase the discomfort. However, as Czarnecki points out, milk teeth are unique as 'they are the only things that fall off your body as a sign of progress, not decay' - perhaps there is no need to be shocked?

And the exhibit is, after all, trying to address the question of recycling parts of the human body. Indeed, my natural reaction to the exhibit is exactly what the project is targeting - we need to get over our squeamishness in order to unlock the potential of stem cells. There are many parts of the body that have uses beyond their 'natural lives' - we have embraced organ transplants for example - so why not use milk teeth, or indeed undesired fat, as sources of stem cells?

And certainly the project should be praised for its engagement of children, who apparently respond very positively to the idea of donating their lost teeth to the 'tooth fairy's palace'. In my book, anything that gets children excited about science or art should be lauded.

Whether or not Palaces achieves Czarnecki's goal of invoking debate and awareness of stem cell research is debateable, but the art piece is definitely thought provoking, and an intriguing juxtaposition of beauty and horror. It will certainly be interesting to follow its evolution as more teeth are donated, and I very much hope it achieves its goal of increasing the public's understanding of stem cell research.

If you go to the Science Museum before 28 June, you should definitely swing by the 'Who Am I' gallery to see Palaces. But bear in mind that while it's a great project, it's just one statue - a small part of a much larger exhibition - and it's probably not worth going to the museum just to see it. But by all means send in your children's teeth!

More information on the project is available at:



Tooth grown from human gum and mouse stem cells
18 March 2013 - by Dr Rosie Morley
For the first time, teeth have been grown from human gum cells, in combination with stem cells from mouse embryos... [Read More]

Theatre Review: Dayglo
19 March 2012 - by Dr Louisa Petchey
'Dayglo', the latest play by the Y Touring Theatre Company, skilfully and thoughtfully explores pharmacogenetics, and is much more than just another educational story...
Film Review: Eggsploitation
07 November 2011 - by George Frodsham
'Eggsploitation' highlights some worrying issues with the way in which egg-harvesting currently operates. Yet it leaves the viewer with the feeling that they haven't been shown the whole picture and a sneaking suspicion that a hidden agenda is at play... [Read More]
Event Review: Human Embryo Research - Law, Ethics and Public Policy
03 October 2011 - by MacKenna Roberts
On 8 September 2011 the Anscombe Bioethics Centre (a Roman Catholic organisation named after the philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe) organised the conference 'Human Embryo Research: Law, Ethics and Public Policy'. This was topical, in a month when it was announced that Europe's first clinical trials using human embryonic stem cells to treat Stargardt's macular degeneration (an incurable disease causing blindness in youth) would take place in the UK... [Read More]

TV Review: Health Explained - Epigenetics

16 April 2012

By Dr Rachael Panizzo

Appeared in BioNews 652

Health Explained: Epigenetics

BBC News Health, Wednesday 14 March 2012

Presented by Professor Tim Spector


Epigenetics is a complex subject, so explaining it in just two minutes is a big ask. But that's what the short film clip, 'Health Explained: Epigenetics', on the BBC website attempts to do. Aimed at a general audience, the film succeeds in giving us a very basic introduction, but doesn't manage to capture what is new and exciting about this field of research.

Professor Tim Spector, from the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London, uses twin research to illustrate the concept of epigenetics. He describes how identical twins, despite sharing an identical set of genes, can nonetheless have different characteristics. We are introduced to Lynn and her twin Debbie. Despite having identical genomes, Debbie has become overweight in later life while Lynn has not.

Similarly, twins Sheila and Dorothy have had remarkably different health outcomes over the course of their lives. Dorothy has experienced perfect health, while Sheila has had three strokes.

If, genetically speaking, all things are equal, why does one twin gain excess weight, or have a stroke, and the other does not?

Professor Spector says that despite the success of sequencing the human genome, our genes can only explain part of our susceptibility to diseases. Environmental factors - such as diet, stress, infection and exposure to chemicals - have a role to play too.

Most of us are familiar with this 'nature versus nurture' debate. What the film doesn't quite succeed in communicating is the idea of nature and nurture together; through epigenetics, the environment can modify gene activity and so influence disease susceptibility.

The example of the twins is intended to help explain this: Debbie and Sheila may have experienced different environmental exposures to their twin sisters, which could have led to epigenetic alterations to their genome that, in turn, could predispose them to weight gain or stroke.

The film ends with a rather unintelligible diagram depicting a red dot attaching itself to a double helix. This is meant to demonstrate that molecules from the environment can instruct our genes to be turned on or off, but it does so with little success.

What is missing from the film is a discussion of the persistence of epigenetic alterations. Exposure to environmental factors before birth or during childhood (such as malnutrition or tobacco smoke), not only has immediate consequences, but can have latent effects appearing well into adulthood. These epigenetic modifications may even persist through generations.

It was never made clear that it is not only our lifestyle now but the lifestyles we had in our youth, and even those of our parents, that influence our susceptibility to disease.

Although 'Health Explained: Epigenetics' is a short introduction aimed at a general audience, the description is, unfortunately, too basic, and so ignores some of the more interesting and novel aspects of epigenetics.


Health explained: Epigenetics


Event Review: Masterpieces of Epigenetics - The Missing Link between Nature and Nurture
14 January 2013 - by James Lush
'Beautiful science' was how Dr Nessa Carey described epigenetics at the Biochemical Society Annual Symposium Public Lecture, held at the University of Leeds... [Read More]
Book Review: The Epigenetics Revolution - How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance
10 September 2012 - by Dr Daniel Grimes
In her new book, 'The Epigenetics Revolution', Nessa Carey argues that we are in the midst of the next great upheaval in biological thinking... [Read More]
Event Review: Twins - Identically Different
25 June 2012 - by Dr Michaela Livingstone
Epigenetics. What on earth is that? You're probably aware of the genetics vs environment debate can still divide people to this day, but epigenetics is something that we haven't quite got around to talking much about in the public sphere.... [Read More]
Book Review: Epigenetics - Linking Genotype and Phenotype in Development and Evolution
23 April 2012 - by Ruth Pidsley
Epigenetics has become something of a hot topic in recent years throughout the scientific community. 'Epigenetics: Linking Genotype and Phenotype in Development and Evolution', edited by Professors Benedikt Hallgrímsson and Brian Hall, reminds a new generation of molecular and systems biologists about the historical roots and scope of epigenetics... [Read More]

TV Review: Horizon: Horizon - The Truth about Fat
26 March 2012 - by Dr Gabrielle Samuel
Last week's Horizon on BBC2, 'The truth about fat', follows surgeon Gabriel Weston as she looks at the latest research exploring why so many people are clinically obese... [Read More]
TV Review: Brave New World - Biology
05 December 2011 - by Rose Palmer
Breakthroughs in biology that 'will transform the resilience and strength of the human body' are the subject of the last episode of Stephen Hawking's brilliant series 'Brave New World'. In just under an hour 'Biology' takes the viewer on a whirlwind tour of some of the newest and most awe-inspiring technologies. We're talking cures for cancer, organ regeneration and experiments in longevity and heritability... [Read More]
Book Review: Drawing the Map of Life - Inside the Human Genome Project
10 January 2011 - by Dr Vivienne Raper
The quest to sequence the first human genome has all the ingredients of a good thriller. Privately funded maverick scientist Dr Craig Venter raced the government-sponsored Human Genome Project (HGP) to be the first to sequence the human genetic code. When the draft code was finally published in 2001, it became one of the landmark scientific advances of the last decade... [Read More]
Epigenome-wide association studies (EWAS)
20 December 2010 - by Dr Carolina Gemma and Dr Vardhman Rakyan
In recent years, significant progress has been made in identifying some of the genetic factors that underlie common complex diseases such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cancer. This has been possible due to the genome-wide association study (GWAS) approach that involves comparing genetic variants in large numbers of individuals that have the disease versus those that do not... [Read More]
Radio Review: Frontiers - Epigenetics
13 December 2010 - by Professor Sandy Raeburn
This Frontiers programme challenged three genetic dogmas. The presenter quoted a recent Observer headline on epigenetics: 'Why everything we were told about evolution was wrong!'... [Read More]

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