This week at the Progress Educational Trust (13 November 2015)
The Progress Educational Trust (PET) is busy preparing for its public conference 'From Three-Person IVF to Genome Editing: The Science and Ethics of Engineering the Embryo', taking place on Wednesday 9 December at University College London's Institute of Child Health. The conference will explore the advent of new methods of making enduring changes to the human embryo - changes that, if used in treatment, will affect not only the person born but also subsequent generations.
Regulations have just come into force in the UK which permit the use in treatment of one of these methods, namely mitochondrial donation. PET's conference will see Professor Doug Turnbull (a pioneer of mitochondrial donation) speak on a panel alongside Sally Cheshire (Chair of the statutory body that regulates mitochondrial donation) and Viscount Matt Ridley (who argued in Parliament for the introduction of the new Regulations).
The conference will also explore a very different approach - genome editing - whose use on human embryos is currently permitted in research, but not in treatment. A technique called CRISPR has made genome editing unprecedentedly cheap and efficient, and this in turn has made genome editing a subject of increasingly high-profile discussion and debate.
Two of the experts who will be speaking at PET's conference - Professors John Harris and Robin Lovell-Badge - are authors of a new article in Nature entitled 'CRISPR: A path through the thicket', which sets out some of the key issues. Another conference speaker, Dr Calum MacKellar, has just published an article in the Scotsman in which he argues that 'serious and inclusive public ethical discussion is necessary to determine if society should use technologies like CRISPR'.
PET's conference on 9 December will be just such a serious and inclusive public ethical discussion. Following introductory presentations, the majority of each session's running time will be devoted to letting you put questions and comments to the speakers. To find out more about the conference and to book your place, click here.
In other news, PET Director Sarah Norcross continues to discuss cuts to public funding of fertility treatment in the print, broadcast and online media. This week Sarah was interviewed on the subject by the BBC1 programme Look East, in her capacity as Co-Chair of the campaigning organisation Fertility Fairness.
Sarah has also been interviewed on this subject in recent days by BBC Radio 4's Today programme (you can listen to that interview here), by BBC Radio 5 Live and by several local radio stations, as well as by national newspapers. She is quoted in the Independent's front-page article 'RIP IVF? NHS cuts to fertility treatment will deny thousands parenthood', and in similar articles in the Daily Mail, in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere.
PET recently had a welcome opportunity to discuss IVF funding and related issues directly with patients, at the annual Fertility Show held at Olympia London. PET's staff, trustees and volunteers joined forces to run the charity's exhibition stand, which was visited by many of the thousands of members of the public who attend the Fertility Show seeking information and advice. PET also runs seminars at the Fertility Show, and this year Sarah chaired two seminars - entitled 'New Technologies in IVF' - which sifted through some of the claims made for novel fertility treatments.
Meanwhile, PET is currently busy going through audience feedback and media coverage from its most recent public events - 'Beating the Biological Clock: Should You Freeze Your Eggs?' and '10 Years Since the End of Donor Anonymity: Have We Got It Right?' - both of which were packed to the rafters.
The 'Beating the Biological Clock' event was covered by the British Medical Journal in the article 'Is too much hope placed in egg freezing?', and by the Observer in the article 'Egg freezing is the tempting option if you’re desperate for a child: but can women be sure it’s the right choice?'. The event also prompted other coverage in the Observer, including a front-page news story, a lead editorial and an accompanying comment piece.
The British Medical Journal went on to interview one of the panel speakers from PET's '10 Years Since the End of Donor Anonymity' event. That event was organised in partnership with the National Gamete Donation Trust, which has offered its own thoughts on what was discussed at the event and what needs to happen next.
PET's recent events have been the subject of extensive social media activity, which has been compiled via Storify here and here. And finally, PET has published articles about these events - here and here - in its flagship publication BioNews. If you went to be kept up-to-date with the the latest news on mitochondrial donation, genome editing, IVF funding, egg cryopreservation, donor conception and much more besides, subscribe to BioNews for free here.