Subscribe to the BioNews newsletter for free

Advanced Search

Search for

Like the Progress Educational Trust on Facebook


Issue 855 (13 June 2016)


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.





News Digest




Surrogacy in Australia – a missed opportunity

13 June 2016

By Stephen Page

Stephen Page is a surrogacy lawyer in Brisbane, Australia

Page URL: Appeared in BioNews 855

Following several high-profile cases involving surrogacy – including the Baby Gammy scandal, in which a baby born through surrogacy in Thailand was falsely alleged to have been abandoned by the intended parents (see BioNews 847) – the Australian parliament recently set up a federal parliamentary inquiry into surrogacy.

It reported its findings last month and concluded that commercial surrogacy in Australia should remain banned and that there should be national, non-discriminatory surrogacy laws. It would also make it harder for Australians to undertake surrogacy in developing countries.

The inquiry report recognised the difficulties facing those looking for a surrogate in Australia. Only altruistic surrogacy is permitted and there are prohibitions on advertising, as well as different laws in different states, which 'add to the strain'. The reports states:

'Often exhausting their domestic options, some Australians choose to bypass the domestic route in favour of pursuing their goal to have a family through offshore commercial surrogacy.'

In an attempt to address these problems, the inquiry recommended setting up a government register of surrogates and intended parents to make it easier for Australians to undertake surrogacy without having to travel abroad. Although the reforms are welcome, they do not go far enough, because they fail to recognise the reality – there will continue to be a huge shortage of surrogates. 

Surrogacy advocate Sam Everingham says that, in 2014, there were just 35 babies born through altruistic surrogacy in Australia, but over 400 born internationally. Other estimates of Australian children born through overseas surrogacy range from 200 to 1000 per year. Even if there were 350 surrogates available on a government-run register each year, this would not cure the problem. If, by these measures, the government is able to increase the number of Australian surrogates by ten times, they will have achieved the equivalent of the second miracle of the loaves and fishes!

In reality, the current status of Australia as the world's largest exporter of intended parents for surrogacy per capita is likely to remain. The only solution is to allow surrogates to be paid. (The committee did recommend that there be greater clarification on what expenses surrogates can be paid. Whether this will be clear enough to encourage women to be surrogates remains to be seen.)

The inquiry, held by the House of Representatives Select Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs and chaired by George Christensen MP, raised concerns about the potential for exploitation of both surrogates and children, particularly in the context of surrogacies that took place in developing countries. The report was delivered only a short time after the judgment in the Baby Gammy case was handed down.

In that judgment there was criticism of commercial surrogacy (which in that case had occurred in Thailand, without screening or legal advice, and with a surrogate who had falsely put up her age so that she could be a surrogate). However, the situation in Thailand is quite different and, in my view, Australia is quite capable of regulating commercial surrogacy while protecting the human rights of all concerned.

The recommendations in the inquiry report also mean that Australian intended parents would have to prove to Australian officials that they have not broken either Australian law or the law in the country where the surrogacy arrangement has taken place, before they can bring their children into Australia. In seeking to protect children, such reforms might mean that children could be left stateless, in breach of Australia's international obligations under the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. There have been a number of examples worldwide of children being left stateless because of insufficient thought on the part of the countries involved. In seeking to regulate the conduct of the adults, they have not considered the impact on innocent children.

The inquiry also raised the possibility that children might have on their birth certificates not only the details of their parents, but also those of their surrogate and her partner and that of the child's genetic history. If this recommendation is accepted, it would be a world first. What impact this might have on a child in enrolling at school or later seeking employment was not discussed.

It is likely that, if the recommendations of the inquiry are accepted by federal, state and territory governments, then the current laws in some states banning Australians from undertaking commercial surrogacy overseas will be repealed. Those laws have been criticised by the two heads of Australia's family law system – Chief Justice Diana Bryant of the Family Court of Australia and Chief Judge John Pascoe of the Federal Circuit Court of Australia – as ineffective because many Australians from those states have undertaken commercial surrogacy overseas, and no one has been prosecuted.

The recommendations, if followed, will not solve the problem of Australians going overseas in great numbers. The law of supply and demand, and desperate intended parents, dictates otherwise. That is why, in my view, this latest inquiry has been a missed opportunity. Only when we have accepted the necessity of commercial surrogacy arrangements will we solve the problem once and for all.



23 October 2017 - by Dr Mary Yarwood 
A surrogate from Queensland, Australia has had her parental rights removed after a judge decided it was in the baby's best interests...
25 September 2017 - by Dr Iain Brassington 
The implausibilities of this series ought not to detain us too long. For there are deep and troubling questions that the series raises. What is it to be a 'real' mother?...
07 August 2017 - by Jennifer Willows 
An Australian nurse has been given a prison sentence after being found guilty of running an illegal surrogacy service in Cambodia...

09 May 2016 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
A federal parliamentary committee in Australia has recommended that commercial surrogacy should remain illegal in the country, but that altruistic surrogacy should be regulated at a national level...
18 April 2016 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
A court in Western Australia has ruled that the twin sister of Baby Gammy, who was born to a Thai surrogate in 2013, should remain with her parents in Australia...
27 April 2015 - by Professor Jenni Millbank 
Surrogacy has received vastly disproportionate attention in Australia given its infrequent occurrence. In less than 30 years we have seen 27 public inquiries and at least 17 different laws passed. Many thousands of media articles and current affairs stories have been penned and filmed...
23 February 2015 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
Thailand's parliament has passed a law banning surrogacy for foreign couples, after two scandals sparked worldwide attention last year...


By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


Mitochondrial donation is safe, study suggests

13 June 2016

By Dr Özge Özkaya

Page URL: Appeared in BioNews 855

An extensive study examining human embryos created using mitochondrial donation has demonstrated that the technique does not adversely affect embryo development and could effectively reduce the risk of passing on mitochondrial disease.

Researchers examined genes in embryos that had undergone a mitochondrial donation technique called pro-nuclear transfer (PNT). Their findings, published in Nature, showed that the embryos obtained by mitochondrial donation were indistinguishable from those obtained by conventional IVF, and there was no observed increase in chromosomal abnormalities that could lead to health conditions.

Most embryos had only a very small percentage (less than two percent) of faulty mitochondria that were carried over from the original affected embryo. If a child has less than 30 percent faulty mitochondria then they will generally be free of mitochondrial disease, explains New Scientist

Mary Herbert, senior author of the study and professor of reproductive biology at Newcastle University, said: 'Having overcome significant technical and biological challenges, we are optimistic that the technique we have developed will offer affected women the possibility of reducing the risk of transmitting mitochondrial DNA disease to their children.' 

The team had previously developed PNT, in which chromosomes inherited from the mother and the father are transferred from a fertilised egg with faulty mitochondria into a denucleated donor egg containing healthy mitochondria. However, even though the researchers had already shown the feasibility of the technique, they only had access to donor eggs that were discarded from IVF due to genetic defects and were therefore not able to conclude whether the technique could give rise to healthy embryos. The latest study involved more than 500 healthy eggs donated by 64 women.

The team also conducted experiments using stem cells derived from the PNT embryos to see whether the carried-over mutated mitochondria would take over the healthy mitochondria of the donor egg, as was suggested by a recent study (reported in BioNews 852). However, they saw that in one cell line out of five, more faulty mitochondria accumulated over time.

Professor Doug Turnbull, director of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Mitochondrial Disease at Newcastle University and co-author of the study, said: 'Our studies on stem cells does express a cautionary note that it might not be 100 percent efficient in preventing transmission, but for many women who carry these mutations the risk is far less than conceiving naturally.'

Recently, MPs voted in favour of allowing the use mitochondrial donation under licences granted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). An expert scientific panel convened by the HFEA asked for more evidence of safety before it would consider issuing the first licence to a clinic.

Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust, which publishes BioNews, told BuzzFeed: 'The HFEA now must reconvene its expert panel to consider these findings. For the sake of patients hoping to be treated with mitochondrial donation, we hope that this will be done without delay.'


31 October 2016 - by Georgia Everett 
Seventeen children conceived through ooplasmic transplantation have all matured with regular health and cognitive abilities, according to a study...
17 October 2016 - by Dr Mair Crouch 
The announcement of the birth of the first child conceived using mitochondrial donation was unforeseen. Nonetheless, in any country regulation should be required to protect the interests of the child...
03 October 2016 - by Dr Julia Hill 
In a world first, the birth of a baby boy who was conceived using mitochondrial donation has been reported...
28 September 2016 - by César Palacios González 
Dr John Zhang's team have opened a new door in terms of reproductive possibilities, but they may very well be instrumental in closing the assisted reproductive door for many people in Mexico...
22 August 2016 - by Dr Özge Özkaya 
Chinese researchers say an IVF technique called pronuclear transfer can safely produce a viable pregnancy...

23 May 2016 - by Dr Rosie Gilchrist 
A study has identified a potential problem with mitochondrial donation, an IVF technique that aims to prevent the transmission of faulty mitochondria from mother to child...
25 April 2016 - by Dr Julia Hill 
A study has found that stem cells from older people accumulate high numbers of mitochondrial DNA mutations, which could limit their therapeutic value...
08 February 2016 - by Kirsty Oswald 
Clinical investigations of mitochondrial donation are 'ethically permissable', says a panel of experts reporting to the US Food and Drug Administration...
11 January 2016 - by Dr Cathy Herbrand 
We report from the second session of the annual conference of the Progress Educational Trust, titled 'From Three-Person IVF to Genome Editing: the Science and the Ethics of Engineering the Embryo', about the newly legalised process of mitochondrial donation...
02 November 2015 - by Dr Katie Howe 
Regulations that came into force this week will enable the UK to be the first country in the world to allow the use of mitochondrial donation techniques during IVF...


By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


US lab attempting to grow pig embryos with human pancreases

13 June 2016

By Dr Jane Currie

Page URL: Appeared in BioNews 855

Scientists have used CRISPR to create part-pig, part-human embryos in an attempt to grow human organs for transplant.

BBC Panorama followed a team from the University of California, Davis, which used the genome-editing technique to cut out the section of the pig DNA that codes for the pig's pancreas. They then injected pig embryos with human induced pluripotent stem cells. The embryos were examined at 28 days.

'Our hope is that this pig embryo will develop normally but the pancreas will be made almost exclusively out of human cells and could be compatible with a patient for transplantation,' explained Dr Pablo Ross, lead researcher on the study.

Where the pig embryo lacks genetic instructions for producing a pancreas, human stem cells would substitute this, allowing development of a human pancreas. 'You are basically creating a vacuum, a hole, so that the human cells respond to the right cues; they make a pancreas. The pig cells can't,' explained Professor Robin Lovell-Badge of the Francis Crick Institute, London, who was not involved in the study.

He added: 'What we don't know – and this is what they need to look at – is whether the human cells can also contribute substantially to other tissues, and particularly they are worried about the brain.'

Professor Ross said that the research was proceeding with caution for this reason: 'We think there is very low potential for a human brain to grow, but this is something we will be investigating.'

Currently there is a worldwide shortage of organs for transplantation. Professor George Church of Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study, told BBC News that 'gene editing could ensure the [pig] organs are very clean, available on demand and healthy, so they could be superior to human donor organs'.

Concerns about these so-called chimeras developing human-like features led the US National Institutes for Health to issue a moratorium on funding for such research in 2015 (see BioNews 827).

There is also a risk of rejection of human organs grown from pig embryos. As Professor Lovell-Badge explained: 'There are other cell types that are going to be present in the pancreas which come from the pig – including blood vessels. Those would be a big problem and they would be rejected by a human.' Another potential concern is that animal viruses could be transmitted to humans via the organs.

Sir John Burn, professor of clinical genetics at Newcastle University, who was not involved in the research, said: 'I think this is exciting because it is a sensible, practical application of revolutionary new science in the form of induced pluripotent stem cells and gene editing, and I think it is very exciting to bring them together. But I also know it is a long way from exciting ideas to the clinic.'


30 January 2017 - by Annabel Slater 
The first early human–pig embryo chimeras have been created by researchers at the Salk Institute, California...
30 January 2017 - by Arit Udoh 
Insulin-producing cells from pancreases grown in rats can cure diabetes when transplanted into mice, according to a study...
05 September 2016 - by Anneesa Amjad 
A prominent bioethicist in the USA has suggested that most of the ethical concerns surrounding the creation of animal-human chimera embryos using human pluripotent stem cells could be reasonably addressed...
08 August 2016 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The US National Institutes of Health is considering lifting a ban on the funding of research to create human-animal 'chimeras' and replacing it with an ethical review process...
20 June 2016 - by Rachel Reeves 
A US federal safety board is set to review an application for the first in-human use of CRISPR/Cas9 genome-editing technology to treat cancer...

09 November 2015 - by Dr Jane Currie 
A group of researchers have called for an overturn of a recent decision by the National Institutes of Health to suspend funding for research on human–animal chimeras...
09 January 2012 - by Suzanne Elvidge 
Three chimeric rhesus monkeys born in the USA have been described as the world's first primate chimeras...
10 April 2007 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has challenged the UK Government's decision to propose a ban on the creation of hybrid or chimera embryos, calling such a move 'unnecessary'. In the report, the MPs said: 'We find that the creation of human-animal chimera or hybrid...
05 March 2007 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
The UK Government's chief scientific adviser has expressed his support for proposals to use animal eggs in the creation of human embryonic stem (ES) cells for research purposes. Sir David King said last week that such work should be allowed under tight regulations, adding that it...


By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


NIH announces genomic data sharing initiative

13 June 2016

By Kulraj Singh Bhangra

Page URL: Appeared in BioNews 855

The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced a new initiative that encourages the sharing of genomic and clinical data among researchers across the world.

Launched by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the Genomic Data Commons (GDC) is a unified data repository, freely accessible to all researchers. Users will be able to download data for use in research, and will also be encouraged to upload their own findings to share with others. 

The aim of the initiative is to facilitate the sharing of vast amounts of genomic cancer data in the hope of uncovering common genetic traits to help personalise treatments to each patient.

Launching the GDC at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting in Chicago, Vice President of the USA, Joe Biden, said: 'It is our hope that the Genomic Data Commons will prove pivotal in advancing precision medicine.'

'More than any other specialty, oncologists have to explore the unknown with their patients. No single oncologist or cancer researcher can find the answers on their own,' he said. 'It requires open data, open collaboration, and above all open minds.'

The sheer size of genomic datasets has been a major hurdle in implementing such an initiative to date, but the GDC attempts to overcome this issue. Using software algorithms, the GDC aims to both centralise and standardise data from large-scale NCI programs, such as The Cancer Genome Atlas and TARGET. These datasets alone comprise more than two petabytes of data – one petabyte is equivalent to 223,000 DVDs filled to capacity with data.

'These datasets will lead to a much deeper understanding of which therapies are most effective for individual cancer patients. With each new addition, the GDC will evolve into a smarter, more comprehensive knowledge system that will foster important discoveries in cancer research and increase the success of cancer treatment for patients,' said Dr Louis Staudt, Director of the NCI Center for Cancer Genomics.

Currently, the data is stored and managed on a private cloud network at the University of Chicago in collaboration with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, all under an NCI contract with Leidos Biomedical Research.

The data will be available for further analysis and there will be safeguards in place to ensure data protection. Users' authorisation to access the data will be checked and, while some data will be publicly accessible, other types of data will be under controlled access.

The GDC also operates under the NIH's genomics data sharing policy – for the researcher this means that any study concluded under the auspices of the NIH must be shared within six months of completion.

The initiative is a central part of President Barack Obama's $1 billion Precision Medicine Initiative for Oncology, with funding for the GDC coming from the $70 million allocated to the NCI for the National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

Dr Allison Heath, GDC director of research, said: 'The initial phase is to get the data harmonised and get that released, and then over the next year or two, we'll have multiple phases where we'll have other things that it has been built to do. But we need to make sure we test and work to make sure we support the community.'


22 May 2017 - by Jennifer Willows 
Customers of Ancestry's consumer DNA tests may be unaware of what they have signed away, a US lawyer has suggested...
28 November 2016 - by Anna Leida 
Having two copies of the X chromosome may help explain why females get cancer less often than males, according to new research...
22 August 2016 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
More than 3230 genes with the propensity to cause disease have been identified in an analysis of the largest exome dataset yet...
20 June 2016 - by Rikita Patel 
Genomics could help predict drug side effects in patients with type 2 diabetes early in the drug development process, according to a study...

25 April 2016 - by Rachel Siden 
AstraZeneca has signed deals with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and two other institutions to launch one of the largest genome-sequencing efforts yet undertaken...
25 April 2016 - by Dr Barbara Prainsack 
A recent Wellcome Trust report says the public are worried about the 'one-way mirror', which allows companies full access to health data while the public know little about what they are doing with it and whom they're sharing it with...
21 March 2016 - by Helen Robertson 
'Personalised medicine' is a term that's being increasingly used to describe the future of cancer treatment. But are we ready for the genomics revolution that comes with it?...
14 March 2016 - by Isobel Steer 
Genetic-testing company Ambry Genetics has launched a huge database of cancer-patient genetics, freely available to the public...
25 January 2016 - by Rikita Patel 
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has pledged over US$280 million over the next four years to genome sequencing targeting common and rare human diseases...


By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


Olympian Greg Rutherford freezes sperm to avoid Zika

13 June 2016

By Ayala Ochert

Page URL: Appeared in BioNews 855

British athlete Greg Rutherford has frozen a sample of his sperm ahead of the Rio Olympics this summer because of concern over the Zika virus.

The wife of the Olympic gold-medal winning long jumper, Susie Verill, told Standard Issue magazine that the couple made the decision as a precaution as they plan to have more children in the future, and also to protect their young son, Milo. Verill and her son will not be accompanying Rutherford to the games.

'The Zika news has caused no end of concern if we're totally honest,' she wrote. 'We're not ones to worry unnecessarily but after more than 100 medical experts stressed the Games should be moved to prevent the disease from spreading, this was a huge factor in us choosing to stay put.'

Last month a group of 150 medical experts wrote an open letter to the World Health Organisation (WHO) calling for the Olympic games to be moved or postponed because of the risk of spreading the disease around the world.

The Zika virus has been linked to babies being born with microcephaly – a condition that results in an abnormally small skull and other brain defects. The virus is transmitted by mosquitoes but can also be passed on through sperm from an infected man (see BioNews 840).

'We've also made the decision to have Greg's sperm frozen. We'd love to have more children and with research in its infancy, I wouldn't want to put myself in a situation which could have been prevented,' wrote Verill.

US cyclist Tejay Van Garderen has also pulled out of the games over fears for his pregnant wife. Vijay Singh and Marc Leishman have withdrawn from the golf event.

Brazil's sports minister Leonardo Picciani has dismissed concerns over holding the games in Rio in August. 'We hosted 43 test events in Rio with 7000 athletes and we have not had any case of Zika or dengue [fever]. We had a very significant reduction. We had 4300 cases in April, which fell to 700 in May and there will be another significant reduction in June or July, and in August it will be very close to zero,' he told the Guardian.

'All the mechanisms of prevention and protection are guaranteed. I would say to any athlete, to any visitor planning on coming to Rio, you do not have to worry, Rio and Brazil have prepared for this moment.'


20 March 2017 - by Annabel Slater 
The US Centers for Disease Control has identified a potential risk of Zika virus transmission from donor sperm in the Florida tri-county area...
07 November 2016 - by Dr Barbara Kramarz 
Zika virus causes permanent damage to the testes of male mice, reducing sperm count and sex hormone levels, according to a study...
22 August 2016 - by Arit Udoh 
The Zika virus has been detected in the semen of a man six months after the onset of infection...
27 June 2016 - by Dr Lanay Griessner 
Researchers have pinpointed a gene that, if blocked, may stop Zika and other related viruses in their tracks...

16 May 2016 - by Sarah Gregory 
Researchers have developed a quick and cheap 'paper-based' test that uses CRISPR to detect the Zika virus...
21 March 2016 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
A 23-year-old woman may soon become become pregnant after receiving an implant of an ovary that had been frozen since she was eight years old...
22 February 2016 - by Ayala Ochert 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority is recommending that people returning from Zika-virus prone areas should not try to conceive naturally, donate eggs or sperm, or proceed with fertility treatment for 28 days...
17 August 2015 - by Meghna Kataria 
Using frozen donated eggs over fresh ones for IVF hampers the odds of a successful live birth, a study has found...


By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


Personalised medicine leads to better cancer outcomes

13 June 2016

By Rachel Reeves

Page URL: Appeared in BioNews 855

Genetic sequencing leading to targeted treatment significantly improves cancer patient outcomes in early-stage clinical trials, according to a study.

The meta-analysis – which examined the results of 346 phase I cancer drug trials – found that patients were six times more likely to respond to treatment when this 'personalised' approach was used.

'Our analysis shows that, in the era of precision medicine, phase I clinical trials using personalised therapy with a biomarker-based approach can do more than assessing the toxicity and side effects,' said Dr Maria Schwaederlé of the University of California, San Diego, lead author on the study. 'These early trials can result in improved outcomes for patients, even among people whose disease is resistant to standard treatments, by selecting patients who will respond best using a personalised approach from the start.' 

In personalised or precision medicine, cancer treatments are based on targeted gene sequencing or using a patient's whole genetic profile. This can provide a more tailored treatment that a patient is more likely to respond to or which results in fewer side effects. Of the 346 studies analysed, 58 used a personalised, biomarker-based selection strategy while the rest used a generic approach. 

In total the studies involved 13,203 cancer patients – 30 percent in the personalised trials responded to the treatment compared with just 4.9 percent in the generic trials. Those patients who responded were also saw these improvements last longer. Patients with haematologic (blood) tumours had 13.6 months of progression-free survival in the precision medicine trials compared with four months in the generic treatment trials. Patients with solid tumours had 4.1 months of progression-free survival in the precision medicine trials compared with 2.8 months in the generic treatment trials.

The research was published in JAMA Oncology and presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago, which highlighted the topic of precision medicine.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, who was not involved in the study, said: 'We're starting to move from general treatments chosen on the basis of the tissue where the cancer starts and what the cancer looks like, to an era of molecular-designed therapy, targeting a tumour's genetic fingerprint.'


10 July 2017 - by Meetal Solanki 
A revolutionary vaccine uses the patient’s own immune response to target tumour cells and could be the first step in bespoke, precision medicine. 
30 May 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
The first cancer drug based on a specific genetic feature has been approved by the US drugs regulator...
19 September 2016 - by Rhys Baker 
Personalised Medicine. A promise of medical treatment tailored to the individual. A promise that has been decades in the delivery. But now, as such treatment appears to be within reach, will the dream be dashed by bureaucracy, inertia and funding crises?...
05 September 2016 - by Meetal Solanki 
A major study into cancer has uncovered fourteen genes which could predict how a patient will respond to tumour treatments, particularly chemotherapy and radiation...

04 April 2016 - by Dr James Heather 
Hospitals around the UK are going to start examining the DNA of tumour cells from paediatric cancer patients in a pilot study starting later this year...
07 March 2016 - by Kulraj Singh Bhangra 
A collaboration between scientists from around the world has identified four subtypes of pancreatic cancer...
07 March 2016 - by Dr Molly Godfrey 
Scientists have identified a method by which all the cells in a tumour could potentially be recognised and eradicated by the patient's own immune system...
28 September 2015 - by Kirsty Oswald 
NHS England's national medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, has outlined how the organisation's approach to personalised medicine will develop over the coming years and expand beyond the work of the 100,000 Genomes Project...
24 August 2015 - by Kirsty Oswald 
Researchers have shown that a skin cancer drug can be used to treat advanced lung cancer in patients whose tumours harbour a particular mutation...


By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


Acute myeloid leukaemia made up of 'at least 11 subtypes'

13 June 2016

By Amina Yonis

Page URL: Appeared in BioNews 855

A study on the blood cancer acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) has shown which combinations of mutations lead to the most aggressive forms of the disease and revealed a complicated picture at the genetic level.

The research, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, outlines major genetic differences between forms of AML, which the scientists hope can be applied in further research as soon as possible.

'We have shown that AML is an umbrella term for a group of at least 11 different types of leukaemia. We can now start to decode these genetics to shape clinical trials and develop diagnostics,' said co-lead author Dr Peter Campbell from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

The study used blood samples and medical histories from 1540 AML patients aged 18–65. The researchers focused on mutations in 111 genes linked to leukaemia, termed 'driver mutations', which are critical to increasing the survival or reproduction of a cancer cell.

The scientists identified patterns in the driver mutations and medical data, revealing the 11 broad classes of AML, each with distinctive clinical features.

Dr Campbell said that the genetic differences can explain 'so much of why one of those patients will be cured while the other will not, despite receiving the exact same treatment'.

Yet the study also revealed that most patients had a unique combination of genetic changes driving their leukaemia. A statement from the scientists said that such genetic complexity also 'helps explain why AML shows such variability in survival rates among patients'.

The study was not the first to examine patterns of genetic mutations in leukaemia, but the relatively large sample size allowed the researchers to be more strident in their conclusions.

Speaking to The Guardian, Matt Kaiser, head of research at the charity Bloodwise, said that the study would hopefully lead to clinical trials into the best types of treatment for each class of AML. However, he observed that the study had focused on patients under 65, while it was 'patients in the over-65 age bracket' who tended to have the worst prognoses.

'Extending this type of analysis to UK clinical trials which cover the older patients will be useful,' Kaiser said.

Áine McCarthy, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, also said that she hoped for 'clinical trials to find out whether tailoring treatment based on these subgroups boosts the number of people surviving the disease'.

Approximately 3000 new cases of AML are diagnosed per year in the UK, with the disease becoming more prevalent with an ageing population. 

Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (press release) | 09 June 2016
New England Journal of Medicine | 09 June 2016
Guardian | 08 June 2016
BBC News | 08 June 2016


27 November 2017 - by Sam Sherratt 
A new gene therapy for leukaemia is effective for a majority of patients who showed resistance to previous therapies...
07 December 2016 - by Dr Loredana Guglielmi 
Researchers have developed a stem cell test that could rapidly predict how patients with acute myeloid leukaemia will respond to treatment...
08 August 2016 - by Amina Yonis 
More than half of patients with sarcoma, a rare cancer, have mutations that are known to increase the risk of other types of cancer...

22 February 2016 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
Trials using genetically engineered immune cells have shown 'extraordinary results' in treating blood cancers in terminally ill patients, say researchers...
09 November 2015 - by Lone Hørlyck 
An experimental cell-based treatment using gene editing, previously only tested on mice, has successfully reversed advanced leukaemia in a one-year-old girl...
11 May 2015 - by Dr Indrayani Ghangrekar & Ayala Ochert 
Molecular biologists have used gene-editing technology to identify promising targets for anti-cancer drugs...
19 May 2014 - by Dr Lanay Griessner 
Definitive support for the existence of human cancer stem cells has been found, according to researchers at the University of Oxford and the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden...


By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


France allows export of dead man's sperm

13 June 2016

By James Brooks

Page URL: Appeared in BioNews 855

A Spanish woman has been allowed to have her dead husband's cryopreserved sperm transported from France to Spain despite a French ban on the exportation of gamete for posthumous insemination.

The decision from the State Council overrules an earlier ruling of a lower tribunal which denied Mariana Gomez-Turri access to her husband's sperm.

Gomez-Turri had been living in France with her husband, Nicola Turri, when he developed lymphatic cancer. Prior to chemotherapy, Turri had his sperm cryopreserved so that he could still have children with Gomez-Turri should the treatment make him infertile. The treatment was unsuccessful, however, and Turri, who was Italian, died in July 2015.

After his death, Gomez-Turri returned to Spain. She had hoped to use the sperm for IVF as posthumous insemination is legal there, but the French tribunal's decision went against her.

However, the State Council said that if French law - which prohibits both posthumous insemination and export of gamete for that purpose - were to be applied in this case, it would jeopardise 'in a manifestly excessive way, the claimant's right to respect for his private and family life'.

The State Council nonetheless maintained that French law on posthumous insemination was compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The council also related that Gomez-Turri had returned to Spain 'without the intention to bypass the French law' but then faced 'a situation in which the exportation of the gametes stored in France was the only way for her to exercise her right under Spanish law'.

David Simhon, a lawyer instructed by Gomez-Turri, said that the decision was 'extraordinary', in the sense of being out-of-the-ordinary, and was therefore appropriate considering his client's 'exceptional situation'. Simhon added that, following the decision, Gomez-Turri hoped for the transport of Turri's gametes to occur 'in the shortest possible time, in the best possible conditions'.


18 September 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
An Australian court is considering whether a woman can use her dead partner's sperm to have a baby...
11 July 2016 - by Kriss Fearon 
A couple whose daughter died of cancer, leaving frozen eggs in storage, has recently won the right to have their request for export reconsidered by the HFEA. There are a number of troubling features of the case which deserve proper scrutiny...
04 July 2016 - by Emma Nottingham 
The case of Samantha Jeffries - a widow who is trying to save the embryos she created with her husband before his death - holds lessons both for fertility clinics and for the HFEA...
27 June 2016 - by Ryan Ross 
The widow of a Falklands veteran is going to the High Court in an attempt to stop the couple's frozen embryos from being destroyed...
20 June 2016 - by Chee Hoe Low 
The parents of a dead Australian man whose sperm has been cryopreserved have said that they will block any attempts by his fiancée to use his sperm in an IVF attempt...

27 April 2015 - by Kirsty Oswald 
A French appeals court has granted a woman the right to adopt a child her wife conceived overseas via artificial insemination...
29 September 2014 - by James Brooks 
France's top civil court, the Court of Cassation, has ruled that children conceived via assisted reproduction overseas can be adopted by same-sex parents...
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...


By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


Scotland expands IVF on the NHS

13 June 2016

By Antony Blackburn-Starza

Page URL: Appeared in BioNews 855

Scotland is set to expand the provision of publicly funded IVF, increasing the number of cycles for eligible patients from two to three.

Couples living with existing children from previous relationships will also be entitled to IVF on the NHS in Scotland, so long as one partner does not have a biological child.

The proposed changes follow recommendations made recently by Scotland's National Infertility Group, which has been tasked with examining the eligibility criteria for IVF. Public Health Minister Aileen Campbell confirmed that the Scottish Government would accept the proposals made in the report.

'For couples who are struggling to conceive it can be a very difficult time. IVF treatment can provide an opportunity to help them have that longed-for baby. We want to make sure that access to treatment on the NHS is as fair as it possibly can be,' she said during a visit to NHS Lothian's Edinburgh Fertility Reproductive Endocrine Centre.

'Over the last four years we have invested around £18 million to reduce IVF waiting times and improve the outcomes for patients undergoing this treatment,' Campbell added. 'I'm delighted to be able to announce today that we will begin work to change the eligibility criteria for IVF and expand access for more families across Scotland.'

The provision of IVF on the NHS in Scotland differs to that offered in the rest of the UK. In England, NICE recommends that eligible couples receive up to three cycles of IVF, but the guidance is not mandatory and many CCGs offer less, with some offering none at all (see BioNews 847). In Scotland, however, since 2013 all Health Boards must follow the same criteria. Wales and Northern Ireland also adopt their own policies.

'Scotland already leads the way on IVF access and rights in UK, and these changes will ensure Scotland's provision is as fair and generous as possible,' said Campbell.

The announcement was welcomed by Professor Adam Balen, chair of the British Fertility Society (BFS), who also pointed to the difference in the provision of IVF between England and Scotland.

'There is now a gulf between IVF funding in Scotland and England and the BFS is disappointed that there is still a postcode lottery for IVF treatment across England, with many CCGs offering fewer cycles and going against the current NICE guidance on this,' he said.

The Scottish Government rejected a recommendation to remove access to IVF where the woman is aged between 40 and 42 years old; these women will still be offered one cycle of treatment if other criteria are met.

Further work will be needed to set out a plan for the implementation of the changes.

The Scottish Government | 13 June 2016
The Scottish Government | 13 June 2016
BBC News | 13 June 2016


06 November 2017 - by Sarah Norcross 
Sarah Norcross, Director of the Progress Educational Trust and Co-Chair of the campaigning organisation Fertility Fairness, speaks on TV and radio about worsening access to publicly funded IVF...
27 March 2017 - by Rikita Patel 
New patients referred for infertility treatment by their doctors will now have access to three cycles of IVF on the NHS in Scotland...
12 December 2016 - by Dr Rachel Brown 
Only 16 percent of Clinical Commissioning Groups in England follow the national guidance on access to NHS fertility treatment, according to an audit by campaign group Fertility Fairness...
12 December 2016 - by Richard Clothier 
How the experience of being denied IVF on the NHS turned one man into a campaigner determined to improve the situation for the thousands of other infertile people...
26 September 2016 - by Lone Hørlyck 
Thirteen Clinical Commissioning Groups are considering making cuts to IVF funding, potentially removing the procedure on the NHS in some areas...

28 February 2016 - by Rikita Patel 
Somerset CCG has announced that its provision of NHS-funded IVF will be reduced from two cycles to one...
02 November 2015 - by Rebecca Carr 
The number of CCGs in England offering the recommended number of IVF cycles to its patients is falling, with two CCGs in Essex decommissioning their assisted conception services altogether...
26 May 2015 - by Ruth Retassie 
A parliamentary committee has asked the Scottish Government to consider funding three cycles of IVF on the NHS, in an increase from the two cycles currently funded on the NHS in Scotland...
30 March 2015 - by Vicky Whitehead 
In England, the IVF postcode lottery impacts on every different level of a patient's NHS treatment in a myriad of ways. Not only is there widespread variation in who can access treatment and the number of IVF cycles available, but even in how a cycle is defined...
27 October 2014 - by Dr Sarah Martins da Silva 
As a consultant clinician working in one of the four NHS tertiary fertility units in Scotland, I was somewhat surprised to read the objection from the Association of Clinical Embryologists about proposed plans to devolve legislative powers for fertility treatment to the Scottish Government...


By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.


TV Review: Panorama – Medicine's Big Breakthrough: Editing Your Genes

13 June 2016

By Rhys Baker

Page URL: Appeared in BioNews 855

'The joy of editing is that DNA essentially becomes a drug target. We can approach the human genome and change it essentially at will.'

CRISPR – a technique to very precisely edit DNA in any target organism – has been changing the world, and its genomes, for over four years. This episode of Panorama gives an excellent summary of where this journey could lead. From changing the flavour of yoghurt, to animal welfare, to cures for genetic disease, CRISPR really does seem to live up to how it's billed here: 'the scientific breakthrough that could change the lives of everyone and everything on the planet'.

Parts of this programme are inspirational. I was moved by Jack, who has type 1 diabetes, and his immunologist father, Dr Chris Burlak, who is using CRISPR in research for a cure. I was astounded by Matt, one of 80 patients on a gene-editing trial to treat his HIV, who recounts the friends he lost to AIDS.

But perhaps the greatest surprise was not the potential applications of CRISPR, but the fact you can conduct it in your own garage. I don't know if it was terrific or terrifying to see buffalo chicken wings in a freezer alongside medical supplies, but it illustrated how simple CRISPR really is.

The interviews were brief and gave a real sense of the wide applications of CRISPR.  But the strong focus on the potential benefits was also a weakness. Despite the opening voice-over warning 'medicine's big breakthrough is not without risk', I felt these risks were not properly investigated. With one exception, the researchers interviewed seemed very dismissive of any negative consequences of, or ethical concerns with, their research. The brief testimony of a single ethicist seemed to indicate that, having ticked the box for 'ethical concerns', further exploration was low on the agenda for the programme's producers.

The presenter, Fergus Walsh, gave summaries of concerns raised by 'critics', 'welfare groups', and 'the regulators', but they lacked the gravitas of the researchers' commentary. As topics touched on here included designer babies, genetically modified animals and intentional extinction of an insect species, more space for ethical debate would have been welcome.

Medicine's Big Breakthrough is highly polished and easy to understand. Walsh avoids jargon in his narration, and his interviews are wide-ranging and interesting. He is deftly supported by some impressive graphics, including 'holograms' of DNA and various anatomical models projected in the towering atrium of the Francis Crick Institute.

Over just 30 minutes Walsh has a lot of ground to cover, and he has little time to even superficially explore the ethical debate launched with CRISPR. While gene editing may have 'just been made simple', how we respond to these stunning advances is anything but.

BBC One | 06 June 2016


10 April 2017 - by Sean Byrne 
A recent Wall Street Journal article, 'DIY Gene Editing: Fast, Cheap — and Worrisome', describes the Saturday afternoon of teenager, Kian Sadeghi, as he learns to use CRISPR/Cas9 at the Genspace Community Lab in Brooklyn, New York. Like many news articles, the main angle of the article is that new science and technology present a problem...
12 September 2016 - by Professor Vardit Ravitsky, Professor Bartha Knoppers, Professor Timothy Caulfield, Professor Rosario Isasi, Erika Kleiderman, and Professor Michael Rudnicki 
Gene editing, in particular CRISPR/Cas9 technology, is sweeping the scientific world and has been receiving ample attention from policymakers worldwide. Policy statements and academic papers regarding responsible ways of moving forward with gene editing have already been published...
30 August 2016 - by Julian Hitchcock 
GMO Sapiens is just the annoying grit in the machine that the genome editing debate needs, but readers deserve clearer lines between science, speculation and opinion...
01 August 2016 - by Anneesa Amjad 
A survey has found that a majority of adults in the USA are worried about the potential use of genome-editing technologies to give children a reduced risk of disease...
25 July 2016 - by Rachel Siden 
Chinese scientists plan to start the first-ever clinical trial of CRISPR genome-editing technology in humans – on patients with lung cancer – this August...

25 April 2016 - by Dr Özge Özkaya 
Scientists have fine tuned the genome-editing tool CRISPR so that it can now edit a single 'letter' of DNA...
11 April 2016 - by James Brooks 
Scientists testing whether the CRISPR genome-editing technique could effectively kill HIV in infected cells have found that, while the approach works in most cases, it can also cement the virus's presence...
22 February 2016 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Professor Matthew Cobb investigates some of the implications of the groundbreaking CRISPR genome-editing technology in this BBC Radio 4 documentary...
22 February 2016 - by BioNews 
This video documents a debate about genome editing, produced by the Progress Educational Trust as part of the Festival of Genomics...


By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.



Published by the Progress Educational Trust


Public Conference
8 December 2017

Speakers include

Professor Azim Surani

Professor Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge

Sally Cheshire

Professor Guido Pennings

Katherine Littler

Professor Allan Pacey

Dr Sue Avery

Professor Richard Anderson

Dr Elizabeth Garner

Dr Andy Greenfield

Dr Anna Smajdor

Dr Henry Malter

Vivienne Parry

Dr Helen O'Neill

Dr César Palacios-González

Philippa Taylor

Fiona Fox

Sarah Norcross

Sandy Starr


Good Fundraising Code

Become a Friend of PET HERE and give the Progress Educational Trust a regular donation