This week at the Progress Educational Trust (30 January 2017)
The Progress Educational Trust (PET)'s next free-to-attend public event will be 'Fertility Treatment Add-Ons: Do They Add Up?', taking place at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in London from 6pm on Wednesday 29 March.
The event, sponsored by the British Fertility Society, will address issues raised by BBC1's recent Panorama programme 'Inside Britain's Fertility Business' and by related research. To book your free place, email
In other news, PET has made a major contribution to Matthew Hill's new two-part BBC Radio 4 documentary 'Revisiting the 14-Day Rule', about the 14-day limit on human embryo research. Alongside the documentary, the BBC has commissioned a poll by YouGov which shows that almost half the general public would support a doubling of the 14-day limit to 28 days.
The documentary concludes by mentioning that the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons is due to consider a proposal for an inquiry into the 14-day rule. That proposal has been submitted by PET - read it here - and PET Communications Officer Sandy Starr is due to address the Science and Technology Committee on the matter next month.
The first episode of the BBC's documentary (listen to it here) explains how the 14-day rule was originally proposed by PET's Patron Baroness Mary Warnock, in her landmark report of 1984. The second episode (listen to it here) explores whether there is a case for revising the rule, and features recordings of debates at PET's recent 'Rethinking the Ethics of Embryo Research' conference on the issue.
Both episodes include interviews with speakers at PET's conference. Besides Baroness Warnock (who opened the conference with a keynote address), these interviewees include:
The findings of the YouGov poll that accompanies the documentary have also been discussed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme by two of the conference speakers - Simon Fishel and Alison Murdoch (Professor of Reproductive Medicine at Newcastle University) - and you can listen to that item here.
PET has been busy publishing material from its conference on its flagship publication BioNews, to which you can subscribe for free here. This material includes a new article by Baroness Warnock entitled 'Should the 14-day limit on human embryo research be extended?', which was published to mark the occasion of her being awarded the highest honour in the New Year Honours List.
Other conference-related articles published on BioNews recently include:
Meanwhile, the conference has been the subject of exhaustive coverage in the national media, including:
Additionally, some speakers have published material from their conference presentations online, including Professors David Jones (here) and Sarah Franklin (here). And PET is gratified that its conference on related issues the previous year is now the subject of an academic paper in the latest issue of the journal Engaging Science, Technology, and Society (download that paper here).
Besides the 14-day rule, the other major focus of PET's recent activities has been mitochondrial donation. The charity has continued its decade-long work campaigning for 'three-person IVF' to be made available to patients seeking to avoid the transmission of mitochondrial disease from mother to child, but has also expressed reservations about these techniques when they are used for other purposes.
Most recently, a child has been born in Ukraine following the use of mitochondrial donation as an experimental fertility treatment. PET Director Sarah Norcross has been quoted in the Telegraph and in the Independent saying:
While PET has reservations about the way three-person IVF has been used in Ukraine, the charity very much welcomes the latest steps toward these techniques - used for their intended purpose - being made available to UK patients. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has decided, in light of the latest scientific evidence, that it will now consider applications for licences to provide treatment using the techniques.
Sandy Starr attended the HFEA meeting where this decision was made, and also attended a briefing on the decision in the Houses of Parliament chaired by Baroness Elizabeth Barker. Meanwhile, Sarah Norcross was interviewed about the decision on Sky News.
Recent weeks have seen Sarah give numerous radio interviews about fertility treatment, some of which have covered IVF 'add-ons' (the focus of PET's upcoming event - Sarah was interviewed on this topic by Danny Pike of BBC Surrey and BBC Sussex) but most of which have been about shortcomings in the public funding of fertility treatment (listen to Sarah discuss this with BBC Essex's Sadie Nine and with BBC Stoke's Liz Ellis).
Sarah has long been campaigning for equitable access to IVF, in her capacity as Co-Chair of Fertility Fairness. The campaign has now stepped up, with a debate on the issue in the House of Commons and an accompanying 'digital debate' organised by the House of Commons via Facebook. Both of these debates were initiated by the MP Steve McCabe, with whom Sarah met last year to discuss problems with IVF funding. He opened the debate in the Commons by referring to the latest audit of fertility services carried out by Sarah and her colleagues.
Another key event that Sarah attended recently was the launch of the Francis Crick Institute's remarkable new £650million facility in London (see this video for a sense of its scale). The Group Leader of the Crick's Human Embryo and Stem Cell Laboratory, Dr Kathy Niakan, is the first researcher licensed by the UK regulator to use genome editing in human embryo research. Dr Niakan discussed this work at PET's recent 'Rethinking the Ethics of Embryo Research' conference.
PET has a longstanding interest in genome editing - Sandy Starr attended a recent event organised by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics to launch its new ethical review of genome editing (that event has been reviewed on BioNews here), and he went on to produce and chair a debate entitled 'Genome Editing: Should We Change the Building Blocks of Life?' at the Battle of Ideas festival held at the Barbican Centre. Speakers at the Battle Of Ideas debate included the Roslin Institute's Head of Developmental Biology Professor Bruce Whitelaw, who also discussed genome editing on a panel alongside Dr Niakan at PET's conference.
PET will shortly be undertaking a new project about the public understanding of genome editing in collaboration with Genetic Alliance UK, a charity which has been exploring patient attitudes towards this technology. Watch this space for further details.
Finally, PET has been going through media coverage of some of the other public events that it held towards the end of 2016, besides its embryo research conference.
Don't forget that PET's next public event is taking place in London on the evening of Wednesday 29 March. To book your free place, email