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Issue 931 (18 December 2017)


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 law reform for single people brings children out of legal limbo

18 December 2017

By Adem Muzaffer, Elizabeth Isaacs QC and Natalie Gamble

Appeared in BioNews 931

In May 2016, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, declared that certain provisions of UK surrogacy law were incompatible with a father and child's human rights. 

In the case in question (Re Z, A Child, No. 2 [2016] EWHC 1191 Fam), the child's father was prevented from obtaining a parental order on the sole ground of his status as a single person. A parental order affects the transfer of parental responsibility and legal parenthood to the parents of a child born through a surrogacy arrangement, and extinguishes the status of the surrogate (and her spouse or civil partner if applicable). As a result, the child is treated as though born to the applicants. It is an order that can only be sought after the child is born, and in no way regulates who can access surrogacy in the first place. 

The law as it currently stands (set out in sections 54(1) and (2) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008) provides that these transformative orders are only available to married couples, civil partners or two persons living as partners in an enduring family relationship.

Declarations of incompatibility and remedial orders

A declaration of incompatibility does not affect the validity of the law. What it does mean is that Parliament will now be forced to consider what steps are necessary to remedy the clash between these provisions of surrogacy law with human rights. One mechanism for doing so is called a remedial order, under section ten of the Human Rights Act 1998. This provides for a fast-track procedure by which the Government can amend law that has been declared incompatible with human rights.

The Government first indicated an intention to introduce a remedial order in December 2016. After a frustrating delay, a draft remedial order was finally laid before Parliament on 29 November 2017. The draft order proposes that a new section 54A is inserted into the HFEA 2008 to apply to applications by single people. Many of the provisions of section 54 are mirrored in the proposed section 54A, although the following provisions are of particular note:

1.    The applicant must be genetically related to the child born through the surrogacy arrangement. In the case of a male single applicant, this means his sperm must have been used to fertilise the egg and produce an embryo. In the case of a female single applicant, this means that her eggs must have been used to produce the embryo. 

2.    The applicant must not be married, in a civil partnership, or in an enduring family relationship (subject to certain conditions).

3.    Applications for parental orders regarding children born before the remedial order comes into force are permitted for a period of six months from the date that the new section 54A is enacted. 

A period of 60 days (beginning on the day on which the draft order was laid) must be allowed for representations to be made about the contents of the order. During this period, the order will also be scrutinised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights. At the end of the 60 days, consideration will be given to any proposed amendments, and the final draft will be laid before Parliament. A motion will then be moved by the Government in each House to approve the draft order. It is anticipated that the process will take between four and six months, and that the law will be changed by the summer of 2018.

With evidence showing that a number of children, including Z, are currently living in legal limbo pending this legal change, it is hoped that there will be no further delays to the process.  

Surrogacy law reform

The ruling in Re Z also prompted the Government to indicate that it would support a wider review of the UK's surrogacy laws by the Law Commission. Following a public consultation, the commission confirmed in December 2017 that a project on surrogacy would feature as part of its 13th Programme of Law Reform.

Such a move is very welcome. This case is just one example of how outdated the current law on parentage is in managing the realities of modern surrogacy. The Family Division of the High Court has over the past ten years made decisions which either stretch the outdated legislation to the point of meaninglessness or, as in this case, are contrary to the best interests of children.  

The current law is bursting at the seams. That is unsurprising given how much the world has changed in respect of social attitudes, family structures, assisted reproduction and technological advancement since the 1980s. What we need is a considered review of the law which takes account of the realities of modern surrogacy practice, both for families conceived in the UK and abroad, so that all children born through surrogacy arrangements can have a secure legal identity from birth.



04 December 2017 - by Jennifer Willows 
A remedial order has been laid before Parliament which, if passed, will give single people the same rights as couples to become the legal parents of their surrogate-born children...
06 November 2017 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
A US surrogate has been united with her genetic child who she carried alongside the intended parents' embryo in an apparent case of superfetation... 
23 October 2017 - by Dr Michelle Rodgers 
Equity and access are among the most urgent issues for medically assisted reproduction. According to Ireland's Health Research Board, across Europe six countries offer full public funding, and 19 countries offer partial public funding...


Sperm, eggs and embryos: how do we define them as science offers new possibilities?

18 December 2017

By Dr Avi Lerner

Research Associate, Institute of Reproductive and Developmental Biology, Imperial College London

Appeared in BioNews 931

The Progress Educational Trust (PET)'s Annual Conference 'Crossing Frontiers: Moving the Boundaries of Human Reproduction' discussed some of the most important ethical and scientific questions facing human reproduction. The first session, chaired by Sarah Norcross, the Director of PET, tackled the very fundamentals. What is a sperm? What is an egg? And what is an embryo?

Opening the first session, Allan Pacey - Trustee of PET and Professor of Andrology at the University of Sheffield - reminisced about the first time he pondered 'what makes a sperm a sperm?'. It was back in 2009 when Professor Karim Nayernia, then working at Newcastle University, announced he had produced human sperm from stem cells in the laboratory. Professor Pacey went on to describe the key elements that make up a sperm, illustrating some of the cell's complexity through scanning electron micrographs that showed in incredible detail the '9+2 arrangement' of microtubules that exists in the tail.

One thing that he made clear was the importance of separating 'payload' - ie, the DNA - from the vehicle. He was wary of putting too much emphasis on sperm morphology or even the ability to swim when defining a sperm. Many members of the animal kingdom have wildly different sperm morphologies and every day during ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), sperm perform their function without the need to swim. In fact, with the increasing complexity of assisted conception, the sperm is required to do less and less. Professor Pacey concluded that at a bare minimum, a sperm requires a healthy haploid genome, a pair of centrioles to help the chromosomes divide and a smattering of calcium to trigger fertilisation and embryo development.

Moving onto the female gamete, the second speaker, Professor Richard Anderson at the University of Edinburgh, gave a counterpart talk on 'What is an egg? And what makes a good egg?'. In contrast to sperm, he explained, we have known for over three hundred years that it is all about the egg and that essentially all an egg really needs to do is provide a vehicle for fertilisation and subsequent development.

One of the biggest issues that eggs have, according to Professor Anderson, is the early commitment they make to their final fates. The business of laying down your store of eggs so early in life is something that really differentiates the female reproductive system from the male reproductive system. He pointed out that 'before a woman had even felt her future daughter give her a first kick, her daughter's germ cells have stopped replicating and entered meiosis' and how strikingly few eggs you have when you want to use them compared with when you were 18 weeks old.

Professor Anderson then explained that alongside quantity, is the important issue of quality. Keeping a cell in near-suspended animation until they are ready to be released, meet the sperm and turn into a baby is a really difficult thing to do. This has all become more of a problem as society has dramatically changed over the past forty years with women having children at increasingly older ages. Concluding, Professor Anderson, summarised that overall, being a good egg in the 21st century is a real challenge!

The third and final talk in this session was by Dr Sue Avery, Trustee of PET and Director of the Birmingham Women's Fertility Centre, who brought the first two talks together to speak about 'how to make an embryo'. She started with an historical perspective that illustrated just how little we knew about human embryology back in the 1980s but then with the invention of IVF, we started to become very aware of what embryos look like. She stressed that after the birth of Louise Brown, it was really important to understand what we were doing biologically and legally, as new legal frameworks were coming into play.

While early definitions of an embryo revolved around fertilisation, this became more complicated, as in 2001 arrived the possibility of a human embryo developing by some process other than fertilisation. This led to some confusion in the law, Dr Avery explained, as these embryos no longer fell under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and were potentially unregulated. Dr Avery pointed out it often seemed 'the law was always running to keep up with the science'.

We have now arrived at even more ways to make a human embryo. Entities like hybrid embryos are not humans according to the Act. Being 'slightly' human doesn't count. Dr Avery concluded that we need to be slightly less wary about interfering with human development and that a little bit of tinkering may be in order.

The discussion that followed started with a question from the floor asking, especially in light of artificial gametes, what exactly Professor Pacey meant regarding a 'healthy haploid genome'? Professor Pacey replied that the challenge is how we define that? How do we measure that? And how do you measure it in a non-destructive way? The discussion went on to mention the animal kingdom and their different reproductive systems, sperm quality and sexual monogamy as well as issues of law and legal terminology. The session finished with Sarah Norcross asking who is going to win in the great egg and sperm race? The answer it seems, is that artificial gametes, at least in some form, have already been created.

PET would like to thank the sponsors of its conference - the Anne McLaren Memorial Trust Fund, the Edwards and Steptoe Research Trust Fund, the ART Institute of Washington, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, the London Women's Clinic and Vitrolife.



15 January 2018 - by Nina Chohan 
Men who regularly take the maximum recommended dose of ibuprofen may be at an increased risk of fertility issues...
15 January 2018 - by Eleanor Taylor 
The ever-expanding limits of human reproduction are creating complex ethical and political challenges. One topic that has generated much contention is the possibility of editing the genome of human embryos...
15 January 2018 - by Susan Tranfield 
The entire landscape of human fertility, from puberty to menopause, is the uncharted territory we tread from adolescence to middle age and sometimes beyond. It is a heady mixture of hormones, reproductive functions and barely acknowledged social and emotional narratives played out against our own and familial expectations...
15 January 2018 - by Dr Danielle Griffith 
'The Wild East and the Worried West: Pioneers or Outlaws?’ was the third session of the Progress Educational Trust's (PET) Annual Conference 'Crossing Frontiers: Moving the Boundaries of Human Reproduction'...
08 January 2018 - by Dr Rachel Brown 
An obstacle course has been developed by scientists in the United States which can select the fastest and healthiest sperm to use in assisted reproductive techniques. 

09 January 2017 - by Dr Valerie Shaikly 
The second session of the Progress Educational Trust's annual conference 'Rethinking the Ethics of Embryo Research: Genome Editing, 14 Days and Beyond', looked at new embryo images that have potential to challenge the 14-day rule and discussed the potential benefits of extending the rule beyond the existing time limit...
18 January 2016 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
We report from the third session of the annual conference of the Progress Educational Trust, titled 'Genome Editing and CRISPR: The Science of Engineering the Embryo', which discussed these new technologies and how they might be used in the future...
11 January 2016 - by Sarah Pritchard 
Sir Mark Walport, the UK's Chief Scientific Adviser, gave the keynote address at the Progress Educational Trust's annual conference, where he highlighted the complexity of assessing emerging science and technology, particularly in relation to genome editing...
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...


Silencing 'junk' gene THOR could slow tumour growth

18 December 2017

By Dr Loredana Guglielmi

Appeared in BioNews 931

Scientists in the USA have found a novel noncoding gene that alters proliferation in cancer cells to help tumour development.

The team, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, identified THOR (Testis-associated Highly-conserved Oncogenic long noncoding RNA) while investigating an unexplored area of the genome harbouring a class of genes called long non-coding RNAs (ribonucleic acid) (lncRNAs). These genes do not contain information to make proteins, therefore they have long been regarded as 'junk' DNA. More recently, non-coding regions of the genome have proved to have diverse functions in health and disease.

The study, published in Cell, demonstrates that the newly discovered non-coding gene is highly conserved in different species, including humans, mice and zebrafish. 'Genes that are evolutionarily conserved are likely important for biological processes. The fact that we found THOR to be a highly conserved IncRNA was exciting,' said Dr Arul Chinnaiyan, who led the team.

When the researchers silenced THOR the tumour growth slowed down, instead THOR overexpression made tumours grow faster. Interestingly, THOR expression did not affect normal cells, suggesting a specific function of the gene in cancerous tissues.

THOR is highly expressed in tumours like melanoma and lung cancer and interacts with insulin-like growth factor-binding proteins, known to help stabilise RNA in the cells. 'If we perturb THOR function, we disturb the ability to stabilise RNA. This inhibits cell proliferation,' said Dr Chinnaiyan.

The research was conducted using in vitro systems and in animal models, so more studies are needed before the findings can be applied to patients.  Dr Chinnaiyan suggested that THOR could be a good drug target - in the future, a therapeutic compound could be developed to 'knock-out' the gene, rendering it silent. The team hopes to develop this using a complementary sequence known as antisense oligonucleotide that can bind with THOR.


11 December 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
UK scientists say they are closer to developing an 'early warning system' for the return of cancer in patients using a simple blood test...
04 December 2017 - by Theofanis Michailidis 
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved a test which can detect cancer-causing mutations in 324 genes...
20 November 2017 - by Marcia Costa 
A team of scientists in Germany has developed a 'sensor' that detects mutations in the key tumour suppressor gene p53 and then kills potentially cancerous cells...
13 November 2017 - by Dr Loredana Guglielmi 
Researchers have introduced new criteria to screen for BRCA gene mutations that could prevent more than 10,000 cases of cancer and save more than 2000 lives in the next decade...


Multiple births down, says state of UK fertility sector report

18 December 2017

By Ewa Zotow

Appeared in BioNews 931

The first ever report on the state of the fertility sector has been released by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). It highlights marked improvements in several aspects of performance, including the reduction in multiple birth rates, and addresses shortcomings in the IVF sector.

The report by the independent regulator of fertility services in the UK brings together previously separate reviews to provide an overview of how clinics comply with regulations, quality of service, reduction of multiple births, and learning from feedback and experience.

It shows that the rate of multiple births has decreased from 24 percent in 2009 to only 11 percent in the financial year 2016-17. This contributes to the reduction of health risks associated with multiple pregnancy and birth. 'The dangers of [multiple birth rates] are well known to all health care professionals but are often underestimated by the wider public and the media,' said Dr Roy Farquharson, chairman of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. 

The HFEA puts special emphasis on the patients' experience and ways to improve gathering and learning from feedback. Last year, 71 percent of patients were happy with the care they received and only 8 percent made negative comments. However, the number of patients giving feedback was low. A new star rating system has been introduced, which is expected to increase the response rates and allow for deeper insight into the service. 

The report also looked into non-compliance and areas for improvement. Overall, the rate of compliance was high, with 74 percent of clinics receiving five-star inspection rating. There was also a reduction in the number of incidents as a proportion of treatments. However, the absolute number of reported incidents increased from 497 in 2015 to 540 in 2016. This included one grade A incident (the most severe), 176 of grade B, and 325 of grade C. 

The single grade A incident involved the birth of a baby with the genetic condition cystic fibrosis after doctors failed to identify the parents as genetic risk carriers. There was no system in place to ensure that the reports from the laboratory were properly reviewed by the clinicians, the report found. A new process for results management has now been put in place to avoid such mistakes in the future.

There are 132 licensed clinics and 76,000 treatments taking place each year in the UK, highlighting a need for continuous monitoring for performance and compliance to regulations. HFEA is committed to maintaining the high standard of care and performance, it says. 

'We will continue to work with all our licensed clinics so that they strive to continually improve and maximise the chances of success for patients seeking their much longed-for families,' Sally Cheshire, HFEA chairwoman said.

Daily Telegraph | 14 December 2017 | 14 December 2017
UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority | 14 December 2017
UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority | 14 December 2017


08 May 2017 - by Shaoni Bhattacharya 
The UK's fertility regulator, the HFEA, says it will be investigating a series of allegations concerning the fertility industry made by the Daily Mail newspaper last week...
24 April 2017 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
A claim for judicial review that sought to challenge changes to the way the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) presents data about UK fertility clinics on its website has failed...
04 April 2016 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
Pregnancy and live birth rates following IVF have continued to increase as the multiple-birth rate declines, according to the latest figures released by the HFEA...
21 September 2015 - by Dr Mary Yarwood 
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has released its second annual report into adverse incidents at fertility clinics in the UK, showing a slight reduction in the overall number of reported problems following fertility treatment...
15 November 2013 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The UK's High Court has ruled against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority saying its actions towards two clinics over a licence condition to impose a maximum multiple birth rate were unlawful. The HFEA has now decided to withdraw the condition from all UK fertility clinics' licences...


US Congress lawmaker resigns amid surrogacy scandal

18 December 2017

By Sean Byrne

Appeared in BioNews 931

Congressman Trent Franks has resigned from the US House of Representatives, following claims of misconduct related to pursuing a surrogacy arrangement with a former staffer.

Franks, who was serving his eighth term representing Arizona, resigned with immediate effect on 8 December. The Congress Committee on Ethics had unanimously voted the previous day to 'establish an investigative subcommittee tasked with determining whether Franks had engaged in conduct that constitutes sexual harassment and/or retaliation for opposing sexual harassment'.

It is unclear from reports as to how many allegations formally stand against Franks, although he does not deny discussing surrogacy with at least two former staffers. 

One former aide – who wishes to remain anonymous – alleged that Franks offered her upwards of US$5 million dollars to act as a surrogate, approaching her at least four separate times, on one occasion with a pre-drafted surrogacy contract.

Speaking to the Associated Press – who have verified that she was previously employed by Franks – the aide said she did not file a formal complaint because until recently she was unsure of how to do so, but that his conduct had made her feel uncomfortable.

Andrea Lafferty, President of Traditional Values Coalition, approached the House Speaker Paul Ryan about the matter last month with permission of the aide, stating she had been contacted for advice by the aide last year.

Franks in his own statement cited the struggles he and his wife had had with infertility during the course of their marriage. His own twins have been conceived through a previous unrelated surrogacy arrangement, which Franks states was 'a pro-life approach that did not discard or throw away any embryos'. A known conservative, Franks has authored many anti-abortion bills during his time at Congress.

In light of the plethora of sexual harassment claims which have arisen over the previous year, Franks stated that he resigned with immediate effect to 'avoid a sensationalised trial by media', having previously stated he would resign at the end of January 2018.


04 December 2017 - by Jennifer Willows 
A remedial order has been laid before Parliament which, if passed, will give single people the same rights as couples to become the legal parents of their surrogate-born children...
04 December 2017 - by Jennifer Willows 
Of Kith and Kin is a play about surrogacy that seems to have very little to say about surrogacy...
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...
23 October 2017 - by Dr Michelle Rodgers 
Equity and access are among the most urgent issues for medically assisted reproduction. According to Ireland's Health Research Board, across Europe six countries offer full public funding, and 19 countries offer partial public funding...
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...


US fertility doctor receives no jail time for using his own sperm in clinic

18 December 2017

By Theofanis Michailidis

Appeared in BioNews 931

A retired fertility doctor who used his own sperm to inseminate patients will not be jailed for his actions.

Dr Donald Cline, from Indianapolis, Indiana, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, and was given a one-year suspended sentence by Marion Superior Court Judge Helen Marchal. Dr Cline avoided further charges because there is no state law which prohibits a doctor from using his own sperm to inseminate patients. 

However, many of the patients and their families felt that the sentence was too lenient: 'The fact is our pain was not acknowledged,' Liz White, one of the former patients, told the Naples Herald.

Diana Kiesler, another former patient, said in an interview with WRTV: 'There are many of us out here that he ruined our lives. I had to go home and tell my husband that he was not the father of my child.'

The case was prompted after an Indiana woman took a home DNA test and discovered she was related to eight other users on the 23andMe database. The eight individuals turned out to be siblings, and each of their mothers were inseminated at Dr Cline's clinic in the 1970s (See BioNews 869).

Because Dr Cline had assured his patients that a sperm donor would not be used more than three times, this prompted the siblings and their parents to file a consumer complaint.

Six of the adult siblings met with the doctor in 2016, and they allege he admitted to donating his own sperm 'around 50 times' to help women get pregnant. However, after an official investigation was launched, Dr Cline told the US Attorney General's Office, that he never used his own sperm. The criminal prosecution relates to this lie.

'What happened 30 years ago was not a criminal offence,' said Tracy Betz of Taft Stettinius & Hollister, Dr Cline's attorney. 'We all make mistakes. We all fall short. He lied. He did so out of fear. He did so out of shame.'

In response to the lack of legislation, the families affected by Dr Cline's actions are lobbying the Indiana General Assembly to pass legislation which would make it illegal for doctors to inseminate patients using their own sperm.


11 December 2017 - by Theofanis Michailidis 
A woman who acted as a surrogate for friends has sued the fertility clinic where they were treated, after it transferred one of the unused embryos made using her eggs to impregnate the same couple, without her consent...
30 October 2017 - by Sarah Pritchard 
A retired US fertility doctor accused of using his own sperm to inseminate patients at his clinic will plead guilty to misleading investigators...
16 October 2017 - by Dr Rachel Brown 
A ruling by the Supreme Court in Georgia has stated a child born following IVF has no legal father, potentially setting a precedent for other similar cases in the future...
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...
19 September 2016 - by Annabel Slater 
A retired fertility doctor in the US has been accused of using his own sperm to fertilise the eggs of patients at a fertility clinic...


Mutation that stops people feeling pain found in Italian family

18 December 2017

By Dr Rachel Huddart

Appeared in BioNews 931

A newly identified genetic mutation makes members of an Italian family unable to feel pain and could lead to the development of new painkillers, research suggests.

The study, published in the journal Brain, identified a mutation in a gene called ZFHX2 which causes six members of the family across three generations to not feel some types of pain. 

'The members of this family can burn themselves or experience pain-free bone fractures,' said Dr James Cox of University College London, and the study's lead author. Despite this, the family had normal density of nerve fibres in the skin, the team found. 'Their nerves are all there, they're just not working how they should be.' 

Although seemingly impervious to fractures and burns, the family members still experienced headaches and pains within the body. Three of the six individuals had given birth, which they had found painful. Interestingly, all six were unable to fully sense temperature and were unable to sweat. They were also unable to feel a burning sensation from capsaicin, the chemical which gives chilli peppers their spice.

The international study sequenced all the coding DNA of each family member who was unable to feel pain. Close inspection of the sequence of the ZFNX2 gene, which binds to DNA in pain-sensing nerves to begin the process of transcription, found that a base, or letter, A had been changed to a letter G in all six pain-free individuals. 

This single letter change is thought to alter the chemistry of the ZFNX2 protein, affecting its ability to bind to DNA. The mutation is dominant, meaning that a person only needs to inherit one mutated version of ZFNX2 to be unable to feel pain and all six members of the family have one mutated ZFNX2 gene and one normal copy. 

Once the mutation had been identified, the researchers produced mice carrying the same mutation and found that they too were unable to sense painful levels of heat. Further genetic analysis showed that the mutant ZFNX2 protein was no longer able to control the expression of 16 other genes in nerve cells, some of which are known to be involved in pain signalling.

It is hoped that this work could provide vital knowledge that could be used to produce new painkillers.

'By identifying this mutation and clarifying that it contributes to the family's pain insensitivity, we have opened up a whole new route to drug discovery for pain relief,' said Professor Anna Maria Aloisi at the University of Siena in Italy, and study co-author. 'With more research to understand exactly how the mutation impacts pain sensitivity, and to see what other genes might be involved, we could identify novel targets for drug development.'

New Scientist | 14 December 2017
Brain | 14 December 2017
EurekAlert | 13 December 2017
International Business Times | 12 December 2017


01 June 2015 - by Paul Waldron 
Scientists studying people who are unable to feel pain have found a gene responsible for this rare condition...
01 December 2014 - by Siobhan Chan 
Nerve cells that react to pain and cold in the same way as human neurons have been formed in the lab, scientists report...
10 February 2014 - by Claire Downes 
Lifestyle and environmental factors can alter sensitivity to pain by switching certain genes on or off, according to research from King’s College London...
12 September 2011 - by Dr Nadeem Shaikh 
A single gene may play a major role in how we perceive pain, UK scientists have discovered. Research published in the journal Science, by a team from the University of Cambridge, shows that the HCN2 gene may be a vital target for future pharmacological research into pain relief...


Same-sex parental support case raises consent issues

18 December 2017

By Georgia Everett

Appeared in BioNews 931

A woman has asked the Hawaii Supreme Court to overturn a ruling denying her request to sever parental rights to a child born to her ex-wife.

The couple, identified only as CC and DD in court documents, married in 2013. They had discussed children, but CC states that she never agreed to proceed with treatment, and DD got pregnant using anonymous donor sperm while CC was away on military deployment in 2015. The child was born while the couple were divorcing.

The outcome of this case is likely to set precedent for how children of same-sex marriage are treated in parental support conflicts. Cathy Sakimura, family law director for the National Centre of Lesbian Rights (who are not involved in the case), explained that 'this is a very important and of-the-moment question in the LGBT community right now, which is how are states going to treat parents of children where there are a same-sex marriage couple'.

The case was initially dismissed by a family court, who reasoned that Hawaii's Uniform Parentage Act and Marriage Equality Act implicate the legal spouse of a women to be the parent of any children she bears during their marriage.

CC's lawyer emphasises that she never agreed to treatment, has no biological connection with the child, was not present at the birth and has no meaningful relationship with the child. DD's lawyer claims CC is attempting to use the lack of biological connection to relieve herself of child support obligations.

'Families are formed in different ways but the same rule applies: when a married couple decides to bring a child into this world, that child has two legal parents, regardless of their gender. A non-biological parent can't invoke biology as a shield to evade parental responsibilities,' said Peter Renn, senior attorney for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender)-rights group Lambda Legal, who are representing DD.

Renn argues that if same-sex couples want equal rights as heterosexual couples, then they must also accept equal responsibility.

However Sakimura considers consent the key issue, regardless of the gender of the parents. 'Did the spouse consent to the procedure and know about it? And that is what triggers them being a parent,' she said.

The justices, including Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald, appeared to agree, unpicking consent in hypothetical situations such as a woman who stops using contraceptionl without her husband's knowledge and a man disputing his parental rights after finding out his wife's child is the result of an affair.

The verdict will be delivered at a later date.

In a parallel Japanese case last week a man sought to reject parental rights to his IVF-conceived child because he did not give permission for his wife to be impregnated with their frozen embryo. The clinic admitted they performed the transfer without checking with the father, but the Nara Family Court dismissed the man's lawsuit, ruling that because he was still in a marital relationship with his now ex-wife at the time of the pregnancy, the Civil Code provision stating that 'a child conceived by a wife during marriage shall be presumed to be a child of her husband' applies.


08 January 2018 - by Sarah Carter-Walshaw 
IVG involves the use of stem cells to create sperm and egg cells in vitro, which can then be used to produce embryos. It is a technique that could provide a fertility treatment option for people who currently cannot have their own genetically related children – including infertile individuals or couples, older women, and same-sex couples...

04 December 2017 - by Jennifer Willows 
A remedial order has been laid before Parliament which, if passed, will give single people the same rights as couples to become the legal parents of their surrogate-born children...
02 December 2016 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
A US judge has ruled that a man who donated sperm to a same-sex couple, after responding to an online advertisement, is not the child's legal father and will not be liable for child support...
19 September 2016 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
A woman who adopted her child, after being told that an administrative error during fertility treatment meant that her legal parental status was in doubt, has been granted legal parenthood by the Family Court...
11 May 2015 - by Ana Ilic 
A legal battle over the custody of a baby girl born through a disputed surrogacy arrangement has resulted in an order to remove the child from her mother and place her into the care of her father and his partner....
11 May 2015 - by Dr Reuven Brandt 
The type of equipment used and the involvement of licensed medical professionals seem irrelevant to the moral facts that determine which individuals ought to have recognized rights and responsibilities for the children they help create...


Gene therapy shows 'mind-blowing' success in treating haemophilia A

18 December 2017

By Sam Sherratt

Appeared in BioNews 931

A new gene therapy for haemophilia A has exceeded expectations in a recent clinical trial.

All seven patients who received the high-dose therapy to correct a faulty gene for a crucial blood clotting protein showed considerable improvement.

'This is huge,' Professor John Pasi, who led the trial at Barts and Queen Mary University of London told the BBC. He added that having 'the option to think about normalising levels' of the blood clotting protein factor VIII in patients with severe haemophilia was 'mind-blowing'.

Gene therapy could be a potential 'cure' for haemophilia, suggested an editorial accompanying the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Mutations in the gene for factor VIII hinder the ability of haemophilia A patients to produce blood clots, causing them to bleed excessively after injury.

During the trial, nine men with haemophilia A received one injection of a genetically-modified virus containing functional copies of the factor VIII gene. The virus delivers the healthy genes into the cells of the patient, allowing them to produce working protein.

Little improvement was seen in the one patient given the low dose and one patient given an intermediate dose. But six of the seven patients given the high dose produced healthy levels of factor VIII up to a year after being treated. Their ability to clot returned to normal, allowing them to completely discontinue other forms of treatment.

'I feel like a new person now,' said Jake Omer, a patient in the trial, to the BBC. 'I feel my body allows me to do more.'

Patients with haemophilia A have to inject themselves with supplementary factor VIII regularly. These injections can be inconvenient and costly, and the results can vary as the levels of factor VIII in the blood slowly drop between injections. The new gene therapy could allow patients to receive just one dose with long-lasting effects.

Haemophilia appears in two forms; A and B, with haemophilia A being the most common. This latest study follows positive results in a trial in haemophilia B patients using gene therapy (see BioNews 930).

'Gene therapy is a potentially game-changing treatment,' said Liz Carroll, the chief executive of The Haemophilia Society in London, UK. Researchers say further trials will be needed to determine whether the therapy works for a wider variety of patients.

New England Journal of Medicine | 09 December 2017
New England Journal of Medicine | 09 December 2017
NHS | 14 December 2017
BBC | 14 December 2017
The Guardian | 14 December 2017


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