Law and the making of life: Regulating stem cell-based embryo models

Professor Emily Jackson spoke about the regulations surrounding brain organoids and stem cell-based embryo models at the Intellectual Forum for this year's Lisa Jardine Memorial Lecture on 22 February. 

The Lisa Jardine Memorial Lecture is an annual lecture that pays tribute to the life and work of Jesus College's first female Fellow. "Lisa Jardine was a woman who broke through boundaries", said the Master, Sonita Alleyne, during her introduction to the evening. "She refused to be boxed in and she had a fierce intellect". 

As a scholar, Prof Jardine had an impressive intellectual range. Her interests spanned from English literature and cultural history to the history of science, and she published books on Robert Hooke, Shakespeare, Francis Bacon, Erasmus, the scientific revolution, and more. 

She was also deeply involved in policymaking. She was a member of the Council of the Royal Institution, she held an advisory role at the Royal Society, and she spent six years, from 2008 until 2014, as Chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). 

This time at the HFEA is the aspect of Prof Jardine's life reflected in year's lecture by Professor Emily Jackson. 

Prof Jackson, a Professor of Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, was a member of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority from 2003 until 2012, and she served as Lisa Jardine’s Deputy Chair from 2008 until 2012. Her topic for the evening, the reprogramming of stem cells in order to create 3D models of organs and tissues, is, she believes, "one of the 21st century's most dramatic scientific developments". 

These embryo models are at the cutting-edge of scientific research; twice in the last seven years, in 2017 and 2023, this technology was chosen as Nature Methods' method of the year. But, as exciting as these developments are scientifically, they raise important questions for the law, as Prof Jackson explained. "How should these entities be regulated? Should the incredibly strict regime that applies to research on embryos also apply to 3D models. Or are they different?" 

Prof Jackson spent the rest of her talk explaining the intricacies of determining the regulations around these models, considering the question from ethical, moral, and scientific angles. She is certain that Prof Jardine would have had much to say on this topic, which she believes would have appealed to her passion for the work of the HFEA. 

"Lisa cared deeply about the work of the HFEA, particularly about the patients who are undergoing or contemplating fertility treatment", Prof Jackson said. "She was also absolutely fascinated by the cutting-edge science that the HFVA licensed. I like to think that if she was still alive today, Lisa would already have done a Radio 4 point of view one Sunday morning about embryo models. She would have highlighted their transformative potential. She'd also have situated progress within a historical context, and it would all be delivered with her trademark wit and elegance".

Watch the event recording on YouTube.