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Issue 730 (11 November 2013)


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.

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News Digest




An inconvenient truth: ICSI is not necessary for the majority of IVF patients

11 November 2013

By Dr Steven Fleming

Director of Assisted Conception Australia and Honorary Associate at University of Sydney

Appeared in BioNews 730

Professor Lisa Jardine, chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has recently criticised the overuse of intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), the same concern having been voiced by Professor Andre Van Steirteghem back in 2010 and Professor Rob Norman back in 2009, both recognised opinion leaders in IVF in the northern and southern hemispheres. Despite their views, the increased use of ICSI continues unabated, so why is nobody listening?

It has long been accepted that the incidence of male factor infertility in cases of fertility treatment is only 30 to 40 percent at most. However, data from the HFEA and the National Perinatal Statistics Unit shows that ICSI is now used to treat 53 to 68 percent of all couples receiving fertility treatment in the UK and Australasia, respectively. Clearly, there is a major discrepancy between the observed rate of male factor infertility and the reported use of ICSI.

The explanation for this is not readily apparent, but the disproportionate use of ICSI could be due to several factors, including the assumption that ICSI will avoid fertilisation failure and will result in a higher pregnancy rate. But is there really any good evidence to support this view?

Some IVF practitioners advocate that all couples should be treated with ICSI, but concerns over its long-term safety have been raised recently (1). Furthermore, one of the cornerstones of evidence-based medicine, the Cochrane library, reported no superiority of ICSI over IVF in pregnancy rates for couples with non-male factor infertility (2). As proof of principle, and contrary to the national trend towards an annual increase in the use of ICSI, my colleagues and I have successfully treated at least 60 percent of our couples with conventional IVF alone every year in both the private and public sector over the past 15 years.

We retrospectively analysed data from over 3,000 cycles of treatment during the period 2004-2007 where, as usual, only 40 percent of the patients were treated with ICSI (3). Fertilisation and clinical pregnancy rates were 71 percent and 30 percent for IVF, and 66 percent and 33 percent for ICSI, respectively, and the failed fertilisation rate for all patients was only 3 percent. As one should expect, our rate of ICSI usage is consistent with the observed incidence of male factor infertility without any significant difference between our IVF and ICSI data.

A number of similar studies have been recently reviewed (4), demonstrating that ICSI does not improve clinical outcomes for unexplained infertility, low egg yield and advanced maternal age, concluding that there is no data to support the routine use of ICSI for non-male factor infertility. However, a recent survey of ICSI in the UK revealed its usage to range wildly - 21 percent to over 80 percent of patients being subjected to ICSI despite HFEA data failing to demonstrate an increased live birth rate in those centres that use ICSI more frequently (5). Should we be concerned about this varied and apparently relaxed use of ICSI?

Since ICSI is a more costly process to the patient, the IVF centre, and the Department of Health (6), it is difficult to justify its use in patients that clearly do not require it to resolve their sub-fertility. A benefit/risk/cost analysis would surely demonstrate IVF to be the better option for the majority of patients. The public would certainly be better informed if IVF and ICSI fertilisation rates were compared, reported and advertised per egg collected rather than per egg inseminated, which otherwise always skews the data in favour of ICSI since not all eggs are injected whereas all eggs are inseminated with conventional IVF.

Equivalent funding of IVF and ICSI treatment might also redress the increasingly disproportionate use of ICSI. Ultimately, we all want our patients to have a healthy baby using the most appropriate and safest means at our disposal, without it costing them or the taxpayer more than necessary.


10 October 2016 - by Rikita Patel 
The first generation of men born through intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) have lower sperm counts, according to a small study...
10 October 2016 - by Professor Allan Pacey 
The finding that men who were conceived as a result of ICSI have lower sperm counts is not surprising, but the good news is that they are not as low as might have been expected...
31 May 2016 - by Sarah Gregory 
The editor-in-chief of Human Reproduction has criticised the overuse of ICSI, following a world report into the use of assisted reproduction technologies...
23 May 2016 - by Lone Hørlyck 
A number of fertility specialists have raised concerns over private clinics offering expensive 'add-on' treatments to patients, sometimes without sufficient evidence of their effectiveness...
09 November 2015 - by Dr Norman Shreeve 
In recent years a range of treatments aimed at suppressing uterine natural killer activity have sprung up, but this has no scientific rationale and can have significant and dangerous side effects...

11 February 2013 - by Matthew Thomas 
Figures released by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority reveal the number of IVF cycles performed each year has continued to rise while the overall multiple pregnancy and birth rate has declined....
09 July 2012 - by Dr Gabrielle Samuel 
Single embryo transfer reduces the risk of death within a month of birth for babies conceived via IVF, according to an Australian study...
02 July 2012 - by Suzanne Elvidge 
A study estimates that five million people worldwide have been born thanks to assisted reproductive technologies...
09 January 2012 - by Victoria Kay 
There has been a rise in the number of British women choosing to give birth to fewer children following multiple pregnancy, leading to renewed calls for restrictions on the number of embryos implanted during IVF....


Clinical-stage gene therapy company launched

11 November 2013

By Dr Naqash Raja

Appeared in BioNews 730

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) has invested US $50 million in a biotech start-up in an effort to commercialise gene therapy.

Spark Therapeutics will use the investment to take over two clinical trials for inherited blindness and haemophilia B.

'The creation of Spark is the culmination of a decade-long commitment by CHOP and our founding team to drive the field of gene therapy forward during a time when many in the industry had moved away,' said Jeffrey Marrazzo, CEO of Spark Therapeutics.

Only one gene therapy has been commercialised in the West: uniQure's Glybera (reported in BioNews 680), but this has not yet been approved for use in the US.

Spark Therapeutics is likely to seek US Food and Drug Administration approval for gene therapy with the phase III study for treatment of inherited blindness caused by a mutation of the RPE65 gene.

This stage builds on earlier work that saw 12 patients with RPE65-related retinal degeneration demonstrate 'notable improvement in visual function', as reported by Spark Therapeutics. The company is also conducting early-stage clinical trials for haemophilia and studies to address neurodegenerative conditions, blood disorders and other forms of inherited blindness.

CHOP has taken a more hands-on approach in this venture with most of Spark Therapeutics' management and advisers coming from its Center for Cellular and Molecular Therapeutics.

'It's a bold move', Gary Kurtzman, managing director for healthcare at Safeguard Scientifics told The Philadelphia Inquirer. 'Based on the technology and the assets and the expertise, I think it's a very smart move'.


24 April 2017 - by Kulraj Singh Bhangra 
A million-dollar gene therapy treatment for a rare blood disease will be withdrawn from the European market due to lack of demand...
02 February 2015 - by Dr Lucy Freem 
Biogen Idec has made an investment deal to develop gene therapy treatments for haemophilia A and B....
15 December 2014 - by Sean Byrne 
Pfizer has entered into a deal with biotech company Spark Therapeutics to conduct research into gene therapy for haemophilia B...
01 December 2014 - by Arit Udoh 
Glybera, the first gene therapy to go on sale in Europe, is set to cost €1.1m (£870,000) per patient, making it the world's most expensive drug...
02 December 2013 - by Dr Rachel Brown 
A biotech start-up that will develop genome-editing therapies has received US $43 million investment from three venture capital firms...

23 September 2013 - by Dr Anna Cauldwell 
A highly anticipated experimental treatment for the genetic condition Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy has failed in a key test of its effectiveness in a critical phase III clinical trial.
09 September 2013 - by Siobhan Chan 
The first patients from two separate ongoing studies have been treated using gene and stem cell therapies to repair damage caused by heart attacks...
15 July 2013 - by Dr Nicola Davis 
A clinical trial of a gene therapy to treat children with two types of severe genetic disease has shown early signs of success...
05 November 2012 - by Dr Lucy Spain 
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....


Genetic 'fountain of youth' heals wounds in mice

11 November 2013

By Dr Nicola Davis

Appeared in BioNews 730

A gene normally only expressed in embryos has been shown to improve tissue repair in adult mice.

Wounds are known to heal much faster in the young than in adults, but the genetic cause of this has remained elusive. Researchers have found that having an active Lin28a gene later in life helped tissue and hair to grow back in mice.

'It sounds like science fiction, but Lin28a could be part of a healing cocktail that gives adults the superior tissue repair seen in juvenile animals', said senior study author Professor George Daley of The Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Boston Children's Hospital.

Lin28a is known to be important in regulating development in a number of different organisms. It is very active in embryos but its abundance declines with age.

The group created mice that expressed low levels of Lin28a as adults, and found that its expression improved tissue regeneration in their ears following puncture wounds. This effect was dependent on the tissue type, as the adult mice could not grow back toes that had been amputated, whereas infant animals could. After being shaved, the mice also grew back their hair much more rapidly than mice with normal Lin28a expression.

'We were just so shocked that such a small change in this gene could have profound effects on a complex regenerating tissue', said Dr Hao Zhu of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre, and one of the lead authors of the study.

The group found that the youthful regenerative abilities of Lin28a were caused by an increase in the cell's metabolism. This was a result of enhanced activity in mitochondria, the parts of the cell that are responsible for producing its energy.

The study was conducted in mice, but Lin28a is also found in humans. Although it is a long way off, the group believe that in time, drugs could be discovered that mimic the healing effects of activating this gene.

'This finding opens up an exciting possibility that metabolism could be modulated to improve tissue repair, whereas metabolic drugs could be employed to promote regeneration', said Dr Zhu.


28 October 2013 - by Siobhan Chan 
A DNA-based biological clock has shown that different parts of the body age at varying rates, with breast tissue and tumour cells appearing older than the rest of the body...
27 August 2013 - by Matthew Thomas 
Genetic mutations passed on from mothers may speed up the ageing process and shorten life expectancy, according to a study on mice...
23 April 2012 - by Dr Victoria Burchell 
Chemical alterations in a group of genes affect how we age, scientists have discovered. These changes switch genes on or off in response to diet or environmental factors throughout our lives. Researchers found that four genes that are epigentically switched off in later life may have a bearing on how well we age...
05 September 2011 - by Dr Zara Mahmoud 
Exposure to a youthful environment may help old cells feel alive again – as the work of Professor Xiaodong Chen and co-workers from the University of Texas Health Science Center, USA, suggests...


Call for volunteers for open-access genome project

11 November 2013

By Simon Hazelwood-Smith

Appeared in BioNews 730

The UK branch of the Personal Genome Project (PGP) has launched, with the aim of sequencing the genomes of 100,000 British volunteers. The project hopes to provide an open-access database of 100,000 genomes accompanied by medical histories to accelerate research into diseases with a genetic component.

'Donating your genome and health data to science is a great way to enable advances in the understanding of human genetics, biology, and health', said Professor Stephan Beck from University College London (UCL), who is directing the PGP-UK.

But the privately-funded project has met with a mixed response from the scientific community and media. While it is widely expected that databases of this size will encourage new insights into genetic disease, there are also concerns of privacy risks for volunteers.

Sharmila Nebhrajani, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities, told The Telegraph that the PGP was an 'exciting initiative' yet presented a 'real ethical challenge'.

Any volunteers should understand, she said, 'that data revealed is a permanent marker of them as individuals and [...] also of their families'.

'The genomic data may show the presence of late onset diseases that have yet to manifest themselves', she added

The PGP-UK website displays a list of potential risks to participants which includes discovering a genetic predisposition to diseases with no known cure, having personal genetic data used to determine insurance policies or used in a paternity test. Volunteers have to complete a test to show they understand the potential implications before signing the 19-page consent form.

Dr Catherine Elliott, director of clinical research interests at the Medical Research Council said: 'In this day and age, cast-iron guarantees of absolute anonymity just don't exist. What can be guaranteed is that patients will increasingly benefit from data sharing between researchers'.

As PGP-UK was launched, 450 people had expressed an interest in volunteering and 50 genomes were due to be sequenced in the first year. Cian Murphy, a PhD student at UCL who has pre-registered, said he would 'happily provide my own DNA and medical history. Anonymised or not, I believe the risk in doing so to be minimal and far outweighed by the desired paradigm shift in making this type of data freely available to everyone'.

PGP-UK has significant differences from the publicly-funded NHS's Genomics England project, which also aims to sequence 100,000 genomes. Data collected for Genomics England will be held behind a firewall and will focus on NHS patients with diagnosed diseases.

Yet Professor Beck hopes that there will be opportunities for collaboration. Talking to the Nature News Blog, he said: 'We are very interested to work together with Genomics England to develop a procedure so those individuals willing to donate their genome can, so it becomes a PGP genome, and all associated data becomes open to everyone'.

PGP-UK is the third franchise of George Church's original US-based PGP, with further projects planned in South Korea, Germany and South America.

University College London (press release) | 07 November 2013
The Guardian | 07 November 2013
BBC News | 07 November 2013
ScienceInsider | 06 November 2013
The Telegraph | 07 November 2013


04 August 2014 - by Siobhan Chan 
The UK Government has announced it will provide £300 million funding for a project to sequence 100,000 genomes, saying that it will 'revolutionise [the] fight against cancer and rare diseases'...
03 March 2014 - by Karen Birmingham 
The eight professors, including two Knights, who contributed to this event, were given a relatively easy time by the public, possibly because there was little time for questions or perhaps because the case for mass genotyping projects had been convincing...
13 January 2014 - by Daryl Ramai 
The New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo, has announced a US$105 million partnership between the New York Genome Center (NYGC) and the University of Buffalo (UB) to accelerate genomic research in the region....
09 December 2013 - by María Victoria Rivas Llanos 
The Personal Genome Project (PGP) was launched in the UK the last November. The project, which was set up in USA in 2005, works on open access of genome sequence information of the 100,000 expected participants...
18 November 2013 - by Dr Stuart Hogarth 
Is the newly launched Personal Genome Project's public disclosure policy the best response to the difficulties of safeguarding genomic confidentiality?...

02 April 2012 - by Cait McDonagh 
The world's largest database of medical information has opened online, allowing researchers around the world to access its contents. The UK Biobank holds anonymous information from more than 500,000 British people, making it a 'globally unique resource' according to England's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies...
09 May 2011 - by Chris Chatterton 
The US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced in Washington last week that the Million Veteran Program (MVP), a research project that aims to collect DNA, lifestyle and other health data from one million veterans under the care of the VA, was being rolled out nationally from 5 May 2011....
18 October 2010 - by Ken Hanscombe 
Twelve members of the Genomes Unzipped project have made their personal genetic data publicly available online. By sharing their genetic data, the project aims to guide discussion about the risks, benefits, and limitations of genetic information, and the issue of genetic privacy...
17 September 2007 - by Ailsa Stevens 
Geneticists taking part in debate being held today at the British Society of Human Genetics (BSHG) annual conference in York will voice concerns over conflicts of interest emerging around the creation of human DNA databases. However, they will also highlight the importance of guaranteeing public confidence to...


IVF less successful for ethnic minorities, study finds

11 November 2013

By Dr Linda Wijlaars

Appeared in BioNews 730

The outcome of fertility treatment may be influenced by the ethnicity of the mother, a UK study has found. Women from ethnic minorities had significantly lower live birth rates after IVF compared to white European women (35 percent versus 44 percent). The results echo those from similar studies from the USA.

'Our data indicates that live birth rates, clinical pregnancy rates and implantation rates following fertility treatment, particularly IVF, are significantly lower in ethnic women when compared to white Europeans', said Dr Walid Maalouf from Nottingham University's Research and Treatment Unit in Reproduction (NURTURE), the lead author on the paper.

The team from NURTURE followed 1,517 women who underwent their first cycle of fertility treatment, using ICSI or conventional IVF, between 2006 and 2011. They collected data on pregnancy rates and live births, as well as information on other factors like smoking that are known to be associated with pregnancy outcomes.

Women from ethnic minorities were slightly more likely to be overweight, and had infertility problems for longer before seeking treatment compared with white women. However, they also smoked less and were slightly younger, which should have increased their chances of success. Instead, their treatment outcomes were significantly worse from the implantation stage onwards.

'The reason for the reduced implantation rates and subsequent reduced outcomes in the ethnic minority group is still unclear', said Dr Maalouf. 'Further research into genetic background as a potential determinant of IVF outcome, as well as the influencing effects of lifestyle and cultural factors on reproductive outcomes, is needed'.

The findings are in line with studies from the USA, which have found that women from African- or Asian-American minorities have lower rates of IVF success.

'Evidence of more realistic success rates of women undergoing fertility treatment could be used to encourage women from ethnic backgrounds to seek treatment earlier and improve the likelihood of a positive pregnancy outcome', said Dr John Thorp, editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology which published the paper.

BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology | 06 November 2013
BJOG Journal News | 06 November 2013
BBC News | 06 November 2013
The Australian | 07 November 2013
University of Nottingham (press release) | 06 November 2013


22 August 2016 - by Dr Rosie Gilchrist 
White British women are more likely to have a successful pregnancy through IVF or ICSI than women from other ethnicities in the UK, according to a recent study...
16 December 2013 - by Dr 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...

13 June 2011 - by Dr Rosie Gilchrist 
Some reports suggest that women from particular ethnic backgrounds have a lower chance of IVF success. However, a new study from the US shows that for Hispanic women at least, the chances of becoming pregnant via IVF treatment are exactly the same as for...
09 May 2011 - by Mehmet Fidanboylu 
A genetic predisposition towards autoimmune disease may be associated with lower pregnancy rates in IVF, a US study suggests. The findings offer a possible explanation for differences in IVF treatment outcomes between different ethnic groups....
14 February 2011 - by Dr Marianne Kennedy 
New research suggests that women from ethnic minority backgrounds may have lower success rates with fertility treatment....
01 March 2010 - by Harriet Vickers 
Researchers have found Asian-American women are less likely than white women to successfully have a baby through IVF, but were unable to pinpoint why...


China: Shanghai smog to blame for subpar sperm, says clinic head

11 November 2013

By Dr Rachel Brown

Appeared in BioNews 730

High levels of air pollution are to blame for a distinct drop in semen quality in Shanghai, according to the doctor who runs the city's main sperm bank.

Sperm donated to the bank at the Ruijin Hospital declined in quality over the last decade, the Shanghai Morning Post reports. Currently, only one-third of the semen is thought to meet the quality standards set by the World Health Organization, with many men suffering low sperm counts or aspermia (the complete lack of sperm).

Zheng Li, who runs the sperm bank, told the newspaper that male infertility was 'increasing year on year' and attributed this decline to worsening environmental factors.

'When the environment is bad, sperm becomes "ugly" and even stops swimming', he said. 'If we don't protect the environment now, mankind will face a worsening infertility predicament'.

According to The Telegraph, the report in the Shanghai Morning Post concluded by 'urging its readers to lead greener lives in order to protect future generations'.

Dr Li previously co-ordinated a study into the effect of the environment on male infertility. Published in 2012, the study reportedly concluded that worsening environmental conditions had mirrored the reduction in sperm quality. His new comments are not supported by any additional study data.

Anecdotally, at least, infertility is on the rise in China. The Telegraph draws on reports from Chinese state news agency Xinhua claiming that China's infertility rate has risen to around 12.5 percent from just three percent two decades earlier, with doctors blaming air pollution, stress, and poor living conditions.

Yet many scientists are sceptical about a link between declining fertility and environmental factors and say that many of the relevant studies are flawed.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences plans to conduct a five-year national study to examine whether environmental pollution may impact women trying to give birth, due to begin in 2014.

Mail Online | 07 November 2013
China Real Time Report (Wall Street Journal blog) | 07 November 2013
The Telegraph | 07 November 2013
Shanghai Morning Post | 07 November 2013


03 July 2017 - by Lea Goetz 
New research suggests living near a road which is noisy at night-time may contribute to male infertility...
20 June 2016 - by Sarah Gregory 
The Chinese government is using social media to recruit sperm donors, according to a report in the New York Times...
19 October 2015 - by Lone Hørlyck 
Prenatal exposure to chemicals used in fracking for oil or natural-gas operations may affect sperm count later in life, a new study performed on mice suggests...
06 January 2014 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The High Court of Australia has awarded damages under contract law to a doctor who purchased assets of a fertility clinic, including a stock of cryopreserved sperm, after almost two thirds of straws provided were unusable...

29 April 2013 - by Chris Baldacci 
A study conducted by the University of Southern Denmark has found evidence that suggests men who do not get enough sleep are likely to be less fertile....
10 December 2012 - by James Brooks 
Between 1989 and 2005, the sperm count of French men dropped by a third, according to research...
19 November 2012 - by Holly Rogers 
A preliminary study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA, suggests that environmental pollutants including industrial chemicals and pesticides may be impairing human fertility, despite being banned more than thirty years ago....
19 April 2010 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
Exposure to air pollution has been linked to a lower chance of IVF success, a study has found. Nitrogen dioxide, fine particulate matter and ozone posed a particular risk, according to the researchers from Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, US...


Accurate editing of human DNA now possible, say scientists

11 November 2013

By Dr Anna Cauldwell

Appeared in BioNews 730

A molecular technique that enables any part of the human genome to be altered with extreme precision has been hailed by scientists as a breakthrough in genetics. It is the first time researchers have been able to engineer any part of the genome without introducing mutations, reports The Independent.

'This is really a triumph of basic science', Professor Craig Mello, University of Massachusetts Medical School professor and joint recipient of a Nobel Prize in 2006 for a previous genetic discovery, told The Independent. 'It's a tremendous breakthrough with huge implications for molecular genetics'.

Crispr was originally discovered in bacteria by Japanese researchers in 1987. However, it was largely dismissed by scientists as 'junk DNA' until 2012 when Professor Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley, uncovered its potential.

Crispr uses an RNA guide molecule that can be programmed to match any unique DNA sequence. This guide is attached to a special enzyme that finds the target sequence of DNA and cuts both DNA strands in the double helix. This then allows copied DNA to be inserted into the genome and defective DNA to be deleted.

Previous gene therapy techniques have made use of less accurate methods that often require the use of a modified virus that inserts DNA at random in the genome, leading to safety concerns.

The Independent reports that some experts have predicted Crispr may soon be used in human gene therapy trials to treat incurable viruses such as HIV or untreatable genetic disorders such as Huntington's disease. Crispr could also be used to potentially correct gene defects in human embryos in IVF, Professor Mello added, although the use of an embryo that has been genetically altered in IVF remains illegal in the UK.

While the development has been widely welcomed by the scientific community, some experts have emphasised that it may be too soon to call its benefits. Professor Dagan Wells, University of Oxford, said: 'I think it's important to stress that the therapeutic potential of this sort of genetic microsurgery is yet to be proven. Additionally, a significant amount of work will need to be done to assess the safety of the method before it can be used clinically'.

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, MRC National Institute for Medical Research, said while there was much deserved excitement surrounding the technique, 'hype needs to be tempered with a little caution'.

'Although remarkably efficient compared to other techniques, the genetic changes introduced by the Crispr technique are not always as perfect as designed and on occasion it could introduce problems that are just as worse as the one being corrected', he said.

On its potential application to IVF, Professor Peter Braude, Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at King's College London, said although the news was 'fascinating', the technique still had a long way to go in relation to IVF.

'For almost all known genetic diseases there is always a proportion of embryos that do not contain the mutation and thus can be selected for by preimplantation genetic diagnosis, a relatively modest modification of the IVF technique without the need for genetic manipulation'.

'Germ line therapy still has a long way to go before it is more widely accepted, both in terms of safety evaluation, and ethics of appropriateness of use', he said.


14 August 2017 - by Emma Lamb and Annabel Slater 
Scientists have repurposed CRISPR to target the repetitive RNA sequences responsible for several genetic diseases...
06 February 2017 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
Professors Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier have won the 2017 Japan Prize for their work on the genome-editing technology CRISPR/Cas9....
05 October 2015 - by Meghna Kataria 
Scientists have identified a new version of the gene-editing technique CRISPR, which could enable greater precision in the editing of genomes, while making its use simpler and more flexible...
03 August 2015 - by Lubna Ahmed 
Researchers have successfully used the technique CRISPR/Cas 9 to cut and paste genes into T-cells of the immune system...
18 May 2015 - by Ari Haque 
Patents for the gene-editing technology, CRISPR/Cas9, are the subject of a dispute between scientists at University of California, Berkeley and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard....

11 July 2011 - by Dr Caroline Hirst 
Scientists have, for the first time, successfully treated a blood disorder by repairing errors in the DNA of a living animal. Researchers from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, together with California-based Sangamo BioSciences, have applied an innovative genome editing technique to treat haemophilia B, which affects around one in 30,000 boys and men...
08 June 2009 - by Dr Sarah Spain 
A team of scientists led by Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, from the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California has combined stem cell technology and gene therapy to fix a genetic mutation in human cells grown in the laboratory. The researchers, who published their achievement in Nature, hope that this technique could one day be used to treat a number of inherited conditions in humans....
05 October 2006 - by Dr Laura Bell 
Two US scientists have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine for discovering a fundamental mechanism which regulates the expression of genes, called RNA interference (RNAi). Andrew Fire of the Stanford School of Medicine and Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts Medical School won a shared...
08 April 2005 - by BioNews 
A gene therapy technique that repairs faulty genes by 'editing' their DNA could lead to new treatments for inherited blood disorders and HIV, say US researchers. The approach could help address safety concerns over current gene therapy methods, many of which rely on specially adapted viruses to deliver working genes...


Lesbian egg donor granted parental rights by Florida Supreme Court

11 November 2013

By María Victoria Rivas Llanos

Appeared in BioNews 730

The Florida Supreme Court has recognised the parental rights of non-birth, biological mothers in same-sex relationships, under both the Florida and US constitutions. The Court declared Florida's Assisted Reproductive Technology Statute as unconstitutional for being contrary to the fundamental right to be a parent.

The case involved a dispute over the legal status of a non-birth parent, known as TMH, to a child born to a same-sex couple. TMH provided eggs for the couple and her partner, DMT, gave birth to the child.

The parents jointly raised the child until the couple split up, after which the birth mother left for Australia taking the child with her. The biological mother, TMH, then sought joint custody over the child, who is now nine years old.

The birth mother, DMT, sought to make use of a provision in Floridian law to be declared the child's sole legal parent. Florida's Assisted Reproductive Technology Statute excludes egg or sperm cell donors from acquiring parental rights in relation to the resulting child, except in the case of a commissioning couple - defined in law as the intended mother and father - engaged in fertility treatment and fathers who have executed a preplanned adoption agreement. Florida does not recognise same-sex marriages.

The trial court gave judgment in favour of DMT, explaining that it felt bound by law to do so as same-sex partners do not meet the definition of a commissioning couple. However, on appeal, the decision was reversed and the Supreme Court agreed. It held by a 4-3 majority that the statute's restricted definition of a 'commissioning couple' violated state and federal equality laws by denying same-sex couples the same level of protection that it affords to unmarried fathers using reproductive technologies.

Giving the majority opinion, Justice Barbara Pariente said: 'It is not the biological relationship per se, but rather the assumption of the parental responsibilities which is of constitutional significance'.

The Supreme Court sent to case back to the trial court to determine time sharing and child support, emphasising that an 'all-or-nothing choice between the two parents is not necessary'.

The Court prioritised the best interests of the child in such disputes. 'The state would be hard pressed to find a reason why a child would not be better off having two loving parents in her life, regardless of whether those parents are of the same sex, than she would by having only one parent', Justice Pariente wrote.

The Court held that the parents in this case clearly intended to raise the child together. The Florida law will still apply to cases where anonymous donors provide sperm or eggs to couples. 'The law wasn't thrown out, it was just thoughtfully applied', said Elizabeth Schwartz, a Miami-based lawyer.

Miami Herald | 07 November 2013
Washington Post | 07 November 2013
Orlando Sentinel | 08 November 2013
Reuters | 07 November 2013
Florida Supreme Court | 07 November 2013


08 June 2015 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The Family Court has refused a man contact over a child raised in a complex set of family relations, to whom he has no biological connection or legal parenthood...
16 February 2015 - by Chee Hoe Low 
A same-sex couple from New Jersey, USA, is challenging a sperm donor's visiting rights over their son conceived by artificial insemination...
10 November 2014 - by Ari Haque 
Actor Jason Patric has been declared legal parent after a two-year long legal challenge to a ruling that declared him simply a sperm donor for his son...
10 March 2014 - by Patricia Cassidy 
A 'do it yourself' surrogacy agreement resulted in legal chaos after the intended parents' relationship broke down within a few months of the baby's birth, leaving the intended mother with no parental rights over the child...

21 October 2013 - by María Victoria Rivas Llanos 
More and more IVF patients are using donor eggs, according to a study carried out in the USA...
19 August 2013 - by Ari Haque 
Jason Patric, an actor best known for his role in 'The Lost Boys', has appeared before California lawmakers in support of a bill that would allow sperm donors to apply for parental rights....
25 February 2013 - by Maria Sheppard 
Human embryonic stem cell lines approved for federal funding in the USA, may have been derived from sperm or eggs of unconsenting donors...
09 January 2012 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
A Florida court has granted equal parental rights to two lesbian women who created a child using the eggs from one of the women, while the other carried the baby to term. It ruled that egg donors may acquire parental rights to children resulting from their gametes under the Florida and US Constitution....


Event Review: Darwin Lecture on Science and Medicine

11 November 2013

By Dr James Heather

Appeared in BioNews 730

Stem Cell Research and Potential Applications to the Treatment of Eye Diseases

Presented by Professor Sir Martin Evans

Organised by the Royal Society of Medicine and the Linnean Society of London

Royal Society of Medicine, 1 Wimpole Street, London W1G 0AE

Thursday 31 October 2013

'Stem Cell Research and Potential Applications to the Treatment of Eye Diseases', presented by Professor Sir Martin Evans and organised by the Royal Society of Medicine and the Linnean Society of London, Thursday 31 October 2013

The chance to watch a lecture from a Nobel laureate is always exciting. Throw in a couple of scientific societies that clock up over 400 years of history between them, and you can practically feel the prestige dripping from the ceiling.

So it was last week when the Royal Society of Medicine and the Linnean Society of London hosted the annual Darwin Lecture. The speaker: Professor Sir Martin Evans, stem cell expert extraordinaire, and one of the (conceptual, human) parents of the knockout mouse.

This is a really big deal. The genetic modification technologies developed in part by this man, along with subsequent related technologies, have immeasurably changed the face of biological and medical research. I was very excited.

The lecture started well, with a re-telling of the history of embryonic stem cell discovery – in which Professor Evans played no small role, being among the first to culture such cells – and how they added to our understanding of developmental biology. We heard the story of how he, among others, developed the technology to genetically alter such stem cells, for which they later received the Nobel Prize.

These are the bits of lectures from pre-eminent scientists I love: the personal stories (with the personalities behind them), the unheard mistakes and accidental discoveries, the photos of old colleagues and lab-book scans from yesteryear. These little glimpses behind the curtain are rare, and I was not disappointed in getting them this night.

Sadly, the good professor became a victim of his own success. A long and prolific scientific career has blessed him with a large reservoir of data; unfortunately this night the dam burst. In a complaint I rarely make, the talk took a turn for the technical, as he scrolled through a selection of slides from across the decades, listing some of the various genes and diseases his lab has worked on.

It is in no doubt that Professor Evans is a titan in his field, and everything a scientist should be: widely knowledgeable, infectiously enthusiastic and modest despite tremendous achievements. I so wanted to enjoy this lecture, but the information tsunami was too much; I could not.

There was also the little matter of the Death by PowerPoint. I tried to be lenient; I appreciate that he's probably spent most of his career using actual slides or overhead projectors. What does a little presentation matter? Sadly, there was only so much I could take; what the clip-art started, the comic sans finished.

Sir Evans has spent his career working on mouse stem cells and how to modify them in order to study disease. He's been incredibly successful. Now, science has begun to use such knowledge to develop new cellular therapies, which could be used to treat a swathe of currently intractable and incurable diseases.

Frankly, he could give the worst lecture ever and I still wouldn't mind. His legacy is far greater.



26 September 2011 - by MacKenna Roberts 
The short film 'Stem Cell Revolutions: A Vision of the Future' uses interviews to document how stem cells have 'vitally changed our understanding of the human body'. The film opens with a voiceover by the film's celebrity commentator novelist Margaret Atwood: 'Sometimes it seems stem cells are proposed as the answer to everything... What can't they do?'...
28 April 2008 - by Fiona Fox 
Should scientists enter the media fray on the most controversial aspects of stem cell research when the row is clearly about much more than the science? This is a question that many in the scientific community have raised over the past year in relation to the furore over human-animal hybrid...
27 January 2008 - by Dr Charlotte Maden 
Stringent new laws on the use of human embryonic stem (ES) cells in experiments are being planned by the UK Government. This will delay critical research into life-threatening diseases, according to a group of leading scientists. The proposed laws are part of the revised Human Fertilisation and...
15 October 2007 - by Ailsa Stevens 
Last week the Nobel Prize for Medicine was jointly awarded to three scientists for their pioneering work on embryonic stem cells in mice. The trio, comprising US scientists Mario R. Capecchi and Oliver Smithies, and UK scientist Martin J. Evans, developed a technique known as 'gene targeting...



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