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A New Year, new fertility and embryology laws - and a new director for PET

7 January 2008
By Sarah Norcross
Director, Progress Educational Trust
Appeared in BioNews 439
Happy New Year. I would like to introduce myself as the new director of Progress Educational Trust (PET), the UK charity that publishes BioNews. Throughout its 15 year history, PET has been dedicated to facilitating informed discussion in the areas of assisted reproduction, embryo research and human genetics, via public debates and other activities such as BioNews. This work is invaluable if ethically sound research and practice is to continue to thrive in the UK - and 2008 is set to be a particularly crucial year, as the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill makes its way through Parliament.

Having previously worked for The Daisy Network Premature Menopause Support Group, I am well versed in many of the issues which surround assisted conception, from the shortage of gametes, to the lack of implementation of the NICE (National Institute for Health and  Clinical Excellence) guidelines in the PCTs across England and Wales. Prior to that role I practised as a barrister and I am sure that I will be utilising those skills in trying to ensure that PET is fully up to speed with as many of the legal ramifications of the Bill as possible.

When one starts a new job, the normal course of events on the first day is perhaps to get to know the staff, where everything is in the office and to familiarise yourself with their IT and learn to love your pc. My first day at PET did not quite follow that course.

After an hour in our office on Gray's Inn Road, Sandy Starr, communications officer and I were heading off to the Houses of Parliament to sit in on a discussion group made up of representatives from bodies such as the BMA, RCOG, MRC, and RCN (I was soon in acronym overload). We were meeting to discuss the proposed amendments in the Lords to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.  Schedules of marshalled amendments were seemingly never ending.

I was also tasked by our chair of trustees Emeritus Professor Marcus Pembrey to ensure make sure that his briefing on Mitochondrial Treatment by Pronuclear Transfer was received by those who needed it.

No sooner had that meeting finished then we were of to the public gallery in the House of Lords to listen to the debate around the amendments to the Bill at the committee stage in the Lords. We listened to Lord Walton of Detchant 'The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 permits laboratory research into human cytoplasmic transplantation'. Such a research licence was granted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to a team at Newcastle University in 2005, and the laboratory studies are ongoing. The team is working on animal studies in which it is carrying out the procedure of taking an ovum, removing the nucleus from it and transplanting the nucleus from another ovum into it so that that nucleus will contain 99.5 per cent of the DNA of the donor nucleus but will also contain the normal cytoplasm.

The proposal that we are discussing now is the next step - when safety has been assured and when all the evidence, scientific and otherwise, has accumulated to make it clear to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority that this is a practical possibility - which is to be able to take an ovum from a women carrying these devastating mitochondrial abnormalities in her cytoplasm, take the nucleus containing 99.5 per cent of her DNA and transplant it into a donor ovum from which the nucleus has been removed but which has normal cytoplasm'. For the full speech go to the site link

Sandy and I tore ourselves away from the debate and back at the office I probably made my only decision that day as director, the date of the Christmas Party.

So, on my first day I was carrying on in the PET tradition of providing much needed information to Parliamentarians on scientific and medical issues in assisted reproduction. Many of you will be familiar with the Progress campaign's (PET's predecessor) work in steering the debate in the lead up to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990.

There are many issues still to be resolved arising from this legislation and we invite you to give your views in this the commentary section of BioNews. So for example if you are concerned that there is a lacuna in the Bill which will prevent you carrying out research, or are a clinician who believes that there should be light touch legislation, get in touch. We want to air as my different opinions as possible as the Bill passes through Parliament.

By the end of my second week we had two debates in place to publicise. The first is entitled: 'Dad not included: Should the need for a father be enshrined in law?' and will take place on 14 January in the Grand Committee Room in the Houses of Parliament. Although the debate is free it will be ticketed - for full details see Recommends. The second debate will be on 12 February at the Centre for Life in Newcastle and the theme will be artificial gametes. Again see Recommends for booking details.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
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