What really led cloning expert [Stojkovic] to quit UK?

Dianne N. Irving
Copyright January 29, 2006
Reproduced with Permission

Isn't it marvelously ironic that Stojkovic is so concerned about the ethics of "premature publicity" and "scientific work practices", and the damage it does to science, but not concerned at all about the accuracy of the scientific substance of the research he performs? Doesn't he know that the number one "ethical" requirement in research is that accurate science is used, and used by those who are academically credentialed and experienced experts in that particular field of science -- as even required by the Declaration of Helsinki and the Nuremberg Code international research ethics guidelines? [See Irving,"The Tragic Irony: South Korean Bioethics Committee Finds Hwang and IRBs Violated the Declaration of Helsinki" (February 2, 2006), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_117tragicirony.html; "Biomedical research with 'decisionally incapacitated' human subjects: legalization of a defunct normative bioethics theory" (June 1998), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_70incapacitated1.html].

But then again, in Great Britain the regulations he must legally adhere to are still directly based on the fake "pre-embryo" myth adopted by the Warnock Report (1985) -- after testimony by British biologist Ann McLaren (which term even she then subsequently and dutifully rejected as false!)?

There is no such thing as a "pre-embryo" - or any of its various "substitutes" - and the term has been formally rejected by the international nomenclature committee on human embryology for years now. Quoting O'Rahilly and Muller:

The term 'pre-embryo' is not used here for the following reasons: (1) it is ill-defined because it is said to end with the appearance of the primitive streak or to include neurulation; (2) it is inaccurate because purely embryonic cells can already be distinguished after a few days, as can also the embryonic (not pre-embryonic!) disc; (3) it is unjustified because the accepted meaning of the word embryo includes all of the first 8 weeks; (4) it is equivocal because it may convey the erroneous idea that a new human organism is formed at only some considerable time after fertilization; and (5) it was introduced in 1986 'largely for public policy reasons' (Biggers). ... Just as postnatal age begins at birth, prenatal age begins at fertilization." [Ronan O'Rahilly and Fabiola Muller, Human Embryology & Teratology (New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001), p. 88] (emphases added)

Yet still they blithely use the fake scientific term "pre-embryo" it in Great Britain to justify all manner of cloning and stem cell research. Just make up your own scientific terms and go for it. [See Irving, "Playing God by manipulating man: Facts and frauds of human cloning" (October 4, 2003), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_22manipulatingman1.html; "Analysis of Legislative and Regulatory Chaos in the U.S.: Asexual Human Reproduction and Genetic Engineering" (Oct. 20, 2004), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_81chaosasexgen1.html "What Human Embryo? Funniest Mental Gymnastics from Medicine and Research" (Oct. 14, 2004), at: http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_82whathumanembryo1.html].

In Stojkovic's case, the cloned product is an "egg", an "organism" (imagine!), a "tiny biological factory for deriving stem cells". What a whopper of a "pre-embryo substitute" that one is! The accurate scientific facts are that the immediate product of both sexual and asexual human reproduction is a living new genetically unique individual human being - a human embryo, a single-cell embryo. It is not, as Stojkovic states, just a "tiny biological factory for deriving stem cells". How crass - and how biologically fradulent. Does Stojkovic worry about using such fraudulent science -- is this perhaps the real reason Stojkovic fled to Spain? Or could it be that his pursuit of cloning as "infertility treatments" could fair better in a less-regulated country? [See Irving, Letter to the Editor: "Dr. Stojkovic and IVF Serbia", (January 25, 2008), Politica.com (Serbia), at: http://www.politika.co.yu/index.php?lid=sr&show=rubrike&part=list_reviews&int_itemID=11656].

This Royal House of Cards has a long way to go before it crumbles. How could things have ever been allowed - and I do mean "allowed" -- to get to this point? Apparently no one cares. [See Irving, "Analysis: University Faculty for Life: Submission of Concern to the British House of Lords Re the 'Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001'"; written as UFL Board Member on behalf of UFL; submitted to Tony Rawsthorne, Select Committee, House of Lords, London (June 1, 2001), at: http://www.parliament.thestationeryoffice.co.uk/pa/ld200102/ldselect/ldstem/83/8313.htm (acknowledgment), and at http://www.lifeissues.net/writers/irv/irv_61ufl_greatbritain1.html.]

The Observer - Guardian Unlimited [UK]
January 29, 2006

Dispute led clone expert to quit UK

Stem cell professor reveals to Antony Barnett that he disagreed with premature publicity given to scientific breakthroughs.

He made history by cloning Britain's first human embryo and was heralded as a pioneering force in medical research, but in September Professor Miodrag Stojkovic shocked the scientific community by leaving the UK for a post in Spain.

His sudden departure was a blow to Britain's efforts to play a leading role in stem cell research - a technology in which hope is invested for cures for a range of diseases from diabetes to Alzheimer's.

This week, at the research laboratories he now runs in Valencia, north-east Spain, Stojkovic has decided for the first time to tell the full story of his departure.

It centres on a dispute over scientific working practices. Perhaps more importantly after the scandal engulfing the South Korean Professor Hwang Woo-suk, who faked his cloning research, Stojkovic believes that his own experience shows Britain's academic establishment has important lessons to learn.

Stojkovic's arguments go the heart of the scientific debate in Britain: the announcement of 'breakthroughs' in research and how the public is informed about some of the most important developments in the medical profession.

When Stojkovic arrived from Germany to take his job at Newcastle University's Institute of Human Genetics in 2002, few noticed his arrival. 'It was just me, a small desk, one microscope and an incubator without a hood,' he said.

Yet Stojkovic's work in the field of stem cell research was to transform not only his life, but the university's reputation. His success brought in vast sums of public money to support his research, enabling Newcastle to build new laboratories. Last year, Stojkovic became the second person in the world to create a cloned human embryo, the first being the disgraced South Korean. Thanks to Stojkovic, Britain is now at the forefront of a world that promises cures for a range of degenerative diseases.

Yet within hours of the world's press being told of the achievement, he had made up his mind that he could no longer work at Newcastle.

At the centre of this academic row is Stojkovic's one-time collaborator, Professor Alison Murdoch, head of the university's Centre for Life fertility clinic. Murdoch, who is also the chair of the British Fertility Society, had been responsible for providing human eggs to Stojkovic for his work. Surplus eggs from women undergoing IVF treatment at her clinic were made available to Stojkovic, who used them to try to create cloned human embryos. In this controversial area, Murdoch had been given the role of arguing the ethical case for the work and dealing with the regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. She frequently appeared in the media explaining why such research was important and faced attacks from religious groups who believed that it was wrong to experiment with human embryos.

Stojkovic's aim was not to produce carbon copies of human beings but to use the eggs as tiny biological factories for deriving stem cells - a type of organism that can develop into many types of cells found in humans. Scientists believe that this is the key to curing diseases such as Parkinson's and spinal cord injuries by allowing the body to repair itself.

At first Stojkovic was happy. But then he started to have concerns about how such research was being relayed to the media in this country. 'People that were not involved in lab work and stem cell work were giving promises about when acute diseases may be cured,' he said. 'This is not responsible. There are plenty of desperate patients out there and you should not encourage them and tell them for instance we will cure type one diabetes in the next five years.'

In South Korea, the pace of scientific advance was going much faster. Hwang had banks of researchers working for him and a supply of more than 2,000 eggs. 'I used to say he played in the Premier League when I was in a lower division,' said Stojkovic. Early last year, it emerged that Hwang was claiming a breakthrough - that he had produced 11 stem cell lines from cloned human embryos. This meant the stem cells were genetically identical to the donor patient and so were unlikely to be rejected by the patient. Hwang was to publish his achievement in Science in May. It was this research that turned out to be false.

On 19 May, Stojkovic met Hwang, who was giving a talk about his work in Edinburgh. The two scientists had a 15-minute chat and the Newcastle professor gave Hwang a manuscript of his research that was soon to be published in the web journal Reproductive BioMedicine Online.

It was then that Stojkovic received a call that marked the beginning of the end of his relationship with Newcastle. One of his lab assistants told him that Murdoch had organised a press conference to announce that the university had cloned a human embryo. This conference was to be on the same day as Hwang's research was due to be published in Science Stojkovic claims that this was the first he had heard of the plans to make an announcement on that specific day. He now also says it was wrong to publicise work before it has been fully reviewed by peers or published in a scientific journal. Newcastle University says Stojkovic was involved in all key discussions relating to the publicity of his research.

'The major point is that scientific effort should be appreciated after publication and not before,' he said. 'It is not about one city, one university, or one country putting themselves first - this was the problem in South Korea. It became a national question and the scientists were under pressure to do more, to be faster ... But the only competitor is time. A patient suffering from spinal cord injuries does not care whether I will find the solution or somebody in the UK or somebody in South Korea. The most important thing is that somebody finds the solution.

'When we speak about stem cells we must let the scientists speak about them,' he said. 'People have to stop promising things. We know nothing of how we will cure these acute diseases, especially using stem cells, and we must not support the concept that stem cells are the holy grail and will cure all diseases. They will definitely cure some diseases but not all.'

Stojkovic's fears for his reputation were realised when the journal Nature criticised what he and his colleague had done. In an editorial in its 2 June edition, it said: 'The premature release of this incomplete information is contrary to good scientific practice.' It added that such an approach 'risks damaging science and its public perception'.

Newcastle University has defended its actions and 'fully endorses' Murdoch's actions. Professor Michael Whitaker, chairman of Newcastle-Durham-NHS Stem Cell Institute said: '[Professor Stojkovic] was always consulted about publicity surrounding him and his work. My inquiries show that he participated fully in both planning and taking part in the media activity surrounding the team's breakthrough in embryonic stem cell research in May 2005, giving interviews to media outlets worldwide.'

When Stojkovic left, he was soon offered a job as deputy director of the Prince Felipe Research Centre in Valencia, which has spent 200m on laboratories focused on regenerative medicine.

His departure has left Newcastle University in a difficult position. On the back of his work, it has recently won a 3.5m grant to create a leading stem cell research centre, but it has lost its top scientist. At the moment, its work on cloned human embryos is on hold and efforts to cure diseases by cloning face a huge setback.

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