Scientist quits over UK’s embryo bias

A renowned adult stem cell expert is taking his expertise abroad because he says the UK’s bias towards embryo research is preventing him from helping people.

Colin McGuckin is quitting his position as professor of regenerative medicine at Newcastle University where he says “You would barely know that adult stem cells exist”.

Unlike embryonic stem cell research, work with adult stem cells does not involve the destruction of human embryos. It has also shown itself to be more successful.

Prof McGuckin says he has decided to work in France where there is a “much more reasoned balance” between embryonic and adult stem cell research, and a “much better environment” both to “cure and treat more people” and to “do good work”.

The announcement comes two days after the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which will open the door for further controversial research using embryos, passed its Remaining Stages.

Scientists, politicians and campaigners have repeatedly pointed out that embryo research shows far less promise than work using the ethical alternative of adult stem cells.

Other countries have much tighter laws on embryology. During debates on the Bill, Edward Leigh MP said that by allowing research using animal-human embryos the UK would “almost be like a rogue state”.

The Government has countered that more liberal laws on embryology are necessary in order to keep the UK at the forefront of new medical advances.

But Anthony Hollander, a professor of rheumatology and tissue engineering at the University of Bristol, disagrees.

“We desperately need more funding for adult stem-cell research,” he says, “because with these cells we really can make a difference to patients’ lives, and we can do it now, not in ten years’ time as is promised for embryonic stem cells.”

Prof McGuckin will now open the world’s biggest institute devoted to cord blood and adult stem-cell research at the University of Lyon in January, taking with him a research team of about ten from Newcastle, including his research partner Nico Forraz.

He said: “The bottom line is my vocation is to work with patients and help patients and unfortunately I can’t do that in the UK.”

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