Prof. Claude Huriet: the bill authorising research on the embryo is “an outdated text”

Publié le : 20 March 2013

 In an article published in the daily Le Monde, Claude Huriet, associate professor of medicine, president of the Institut Curie, former member of the National Consultative Committee on Ethics (CCNE) and former senator, points out that the bill authorising research on the embryo "makes us wonder about the motives behind this additional provision to the law on bioethics adopted by the Parliament seventeen months ago." He asks: "is the motivation based on medical and scientific considerations linked to recent discoveries, or on political opportunity?"

The former member of the CCNE writes that an examination of the motives of the text show "without ambiguity that the bill is an outdated text." He adds: "it does not refer to the extraordinary advances made in the field of adult or induced stem cells and their possible therapeutic applications, nor to the vitrification of oocytes." Prof. Huriet claims that "what is at stake is the pure and simple suppression of the prohibition of research on the human embryo." But, he points out, "the bases on which this bill is constructed are fallacious and ‘inopportune’, meaning that they are overtaken by the recent advances." On this point, Prof. Huriet gives several examples. The first, in 1998, when J.A Thomson, "auditioned by the American Senate, had foreseen therapeutic uses for human embryonic stem cells but then abandoned this approach in 2002," because according to him "these cells will probably never be usable for treating patients." Moreover, adds Prof. Huriet, "in fifteen years, no patient had been treated by embryonic stem cells." Hence, the former senator asks: "how can one make a reference, in a serious parliamentary debate, to ‘important scientific results,’ affirm that ‘the research on embryonic stem cells is a source of hope’ and that ‘the results obtained over thirteen years around the world and over six years in France are very encouraging?"
The text of the bill, which will be discussed on 28 March in the National Assembly, states that "fundamental or applied research [on the embryo and embryonic stem cells] is carried out for medical purposes.". Prof. Claude Huriet comments: "if this is the essential aim of the bill, the medical purposes can henceforth be achieved, to the exclusion of embryonic cells, only in the context of the recent discoveries concerning adult stem cells, and more recently induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS)." He points out that "in 1991, the research results of Marie-Louise Labat (CNRS) and her team, published in international journals, showed the presence in the blood of a cell capable of forming different tissues, seemingly pluripotent." Furthermore, and still in France, the team of Prof. Luc Douay (from the hospital Saint-Antoine, Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie) "obtained red globules from stem cells of umbilical cord blood and bone marrow which offered possibilities as rich as those of embryonic stem cells." Prof. Claude Huriet says that this latter advance "is a world first which shows that the restrictions of French law have not excluded all French researchers from the international competition!"
Lastly, the former member of the CCNE emphasises a final major scientific breakthrough which demonstrates that the bill authorising research on the embryo is "disconnected" from reality. This advance is the "work of professors Yamanaka and Gordon undertaken in 2006 [and] crowned by the Nobel Prize on 8 October 2012." (Gènéthique press review from 8th to 12th of october 2012)Prof. Huriet concludes: "the reprogramming of blood or skin cells into cells similar to embryonic stem cells puts the latter back in the past.". Whereas this possibility of reprogramming adult cells "looked for a long time like an utopian dream" […] "it is now a reality which already forms part of the protocols of clinical trials… and features in numerous publications".

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