Sputnik: What are your thoughts on the findings and the recommendations of the Nuffield Council?
Stuart A. Newman: I'm very troubled by it. I think it's very irresponsible of them to make that pronouncement. I think that these methods are dangerous and in fact, there is no child there, there is basically a fertilized egg and they're saying that the child has an interest and the interest is to be experimented on. These experiments are very chancy and there is really no guarantee that the developing embryo won't turn out more impaired than the way it started. I really don't understand the rationale at all.
Sputnik: I spoke with an expert from the Nuffield Council, one of the co-authors of the project, and her ballpark guess was that we're at least 50 years away from this kind of technology actually being used. There has to be a lot of research. There has to be an investigation of how this procedure will be carried out, the long-term effects of this which would likely demand to look at this in other organisms, non-human organisms over several decades and several generations to see what the effects are.
Also, I think what they're saying is there are some diseases that are actually carried in one gene, cystic fibrosis for one, sickle cell anemia and there are others as well, and if they can be treated through this technology then it should be allowed. What kind of risks and what kind of dangers do you feel this kind of research carries?
So even though genes do similar things in different species they don't do exactly the same thing, and scientists are always being surprised and saying that — we thought that this gene just did this, but it really also does that and sometimes it does the opposite in one tissue type or in one organ type then it does in another. So you really can't do experiments on mice and say — okay, we're ready to do them on people, so maybe the thing is to do experiments on people.
So basically what are they going to do? Genetically engineer human embryos and learn from their mistakes? And have individuals being born with errors that they've introduced simply to get it right so that 20 years down the line they can do it with confidence? I think that's unethical, and I don't understand how an ethics council can make a recommendation to do experiments on people.
For more information listen to this edition of Weekend Special with Professor Stuart A. Newman.
The views and opinions expressed by Stuart A. Newman are those of the researcher and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.