L'éthique révolutionnaire de la recherche embryonnaire

L'avancée scientifique la plus impressionnante de l'année 2005 est aujourd'hui remise en question. En juin, le prestigieux magazine Science a publié un article signé par le scientifique sud-coréen Woo-Suk Hwang et une équipe internationale de co-auteurs, décrivant la façon dont ils avaient développé des lignées de cellules souches humaines “sur mesure” clonées à partir d'un adulte. La validité scientifique de leur recherche fait aujourd'hui l'objet de plusieurs enquêtes indépendantes, mais il n'en reste pas moins important d'examiner ses implications éthiques.

Hwang et ses collègues ont affirmé avoir remplacé le noyau d'un œuf humain non fertilisé par celui d'une cellule ordinaire prélevée sur une autre personne, et avoir développé des lignées de cellules souches à l'ADN identique à celui de la personne ayant fourni la cellule ordinaire à partir de l'embryon ainsi créé. Cette réussite semblait nous rapprocher considérablement d'un monde dans lequel des patients pourraient se voir greffer des cellules ou des tissus que leur corps ne rejetterait pas, puisque les matériaux biologiques utilisés, clonés à partir du patient lui-même, leur conviendraient parfaitement.

Début décembre, Hwang a révélé que certains des œufs provenaient de deux femmes qui travaillaient dans son laboratoire, et que d'autres “donneuses” avaient été payées pour donner leurs ovocytes, une faille éthique qui n'engageait en rien l'exactitude des résultats scientifiques. Mais les collaborateurs de Hwang ont commencé à mettre en doute la validité de l'expérience elle-même, et Hwang a signalé à Science qu'il souhaitait retirer son article. À l'heure de la rédaction de notre article, il défend encore la validité de son travail, tout en admettant l'existence “d'erreurs humaines” dans la préservation des lignées de cellules souches, notamment une contamination par un champignon. Il aurait même suggéré que certaines cellules auraient pu être falsifiées.

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