UK scientists urge Bundestag to legalise embryonic stem cell research
(3 March 2008)
The directors of a leading British stem cell research group are urging the German Parliament to legalise the use embryonic stem cells for research in their country.
Co-directors of the Northeast England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI), Professor Chris Hutchison from Durham University and Professor Michael Whitaker, have written to members of the Bundestag to express their belief that 'preventing research on embryonic stem cells will inevitably set back the whole of the stem cell field.' The Bundestag is considering an amendment to the German stem cell Act of 2002 which would lift the ban on the use of human embryonic stem cells for research, subject to strict ethical considerations. Among the supporters of the amendment are German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German Research Foundation, which argues that German scientists are currently excluded from the international research effort in this field. NESCI scientists carry out research using a variety of stem cell types including umbilical cord blood stem cells and adult tissue stem cells as well as embryonic stem cells, which is legal in the UK. In their letter, Professors Hutchison and Whitaker say that it is still too early to say what type of stem cells offer the most promise for future therapies but that current knowledge suggests that embryonic stem cells are the most versatile, or pluripotent. 'Embryonic stem cells have a unique ethical status but they also have a unique scientific status as the gold standard for pluripotent cells against which other potentially pluripotent cells can be evaluated. For this reason, preventing res earch on embryonic stem cells will inevitably set back the whole of the stem cell field,' says the letter. It adds: 'The recommendations made to the Bundestag by the German Research Foundation are very sensible. Not to alter the Act will leave German researchers who have contributed substantially to embryonic stem cell research very isolated and unable legally to access newer cell lines, even those made outside Germany.' NOTES: About NESCI: The Northeast England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) draws together Durham and Newcastle Universities, the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and other partners in a unique interdisciplinary collaboration to convert stem cell research and technologies into cost-effective, ethically-robust 21st century health solutions to ameliorate degenerative diseases, the effects of ageing and serious injury. The Institute has received substantial funding and other support from the Regional Development Agency, One NorthEast and is partly based at the International Centre for Life in Newcastle.