2003 : WHAT ARE THE PRESSING SCIENTIFIC ISSUES FOR THE NATION AND THE WORLD, AND WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE ON HOW I CAN BEGIN TO DEAL WITH THEM? - GWB

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Chair of Reproductive Biology, Director Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, University of Edinburgh; Author, After Dolly
Professor and Head of Department of Gene Expression and Development at the Roslin Institute

Mr President,

Biomedical research in the United States has a distinguished record of contributing to knowledge and to new medical treatments. In the same way, research with cells derived from cloned human embryos will offer unique opportunities to study many extremely unpleasant diseases, perhaps one day to have treatments for these diseases and also to produce safer medicines. This research cannot be carried out in any other way.

The diseases include motor neurone disease, diabetes and genetic causes of sudden heart failure. Researchers could learn a great deal about these diseases if they could study in the laboratory the cells that are affected by the disease. Later they would assess the effects of drugs upon the malfunctioning cells. One day it may also be possible use cells from cloned embryos to treat unpleasant degenerative diseases by supplying replacement cells for those that have been damaged in diseases such as diabetes or heart failure.

Each year thousands of people in the USA are killed by taking medicines, even if the medicine was prescribed and used appropriately. This is because people differ in the way that they react to drugs. Pharmaceutical companies would be able to reduce this risk to us all and design drugs to be safer and more effective if they could study these differences in function of liver cells. At present the only source of such cells for research is the liver of casualties, if the organ is not suitable for transfer to a patient. Liver cells with these important differences in responses to drugs could be derived from cloned embryos and be used first to study these genetic differences and then to design better drugs and to establish the basis for personalised treatments.

There is no fully effective treatment for any of these conditions and in some cases none at all. We all know people affected by them and may fall victim ourselves, as we get older. In these circumstances, it would be a tragedy if concern over the unsubstantiated claims of the birth of a cloned child led to legislation that prohibited these important research projects.

By contrast there is every reason to encourage legislation to prohibit the production of children by cloning. Apart from the many ethical and social concerns the evidence from experiments with animals all points to the conclusion that the likely outcome of attempts to clone humans would include late abortions, the birth of dead children and of abnormal live children. As there is no way to avoid this tragic outcome it is important that legislation is enacted as soon as possible to prohibit such attempts.

I urge you to distinguish between these two uses of the cloning procedure, to allow the research that has the potential to be so beneficial, while prohibiting the misguided attempts to produce children.

Ian Wilmut
Professor and Head of Department of Gene Expression and Development at the Roslin Institute
Leader of the team that cloned Dolly the sheep in 1966 (The first animal to be cloned from an adult cell).
Coauthor (with Colin Tudge & Keith Campbell) of The Second Creation; author of After Dolly: The Uses and Misuses of Cloning (forthcoming).