Canada opts for middle ground

March 8, 2002

THES reporters look at global developments in stem-cell research and legislation.

American researchers seeking a more liberal terrain for stem-cell research could find a haven in Canada, where new guidelines for the use of human embryos were set out earlier this week, writes Philip Fine.

But the extent of privately funded stem-cell research in the United States means Canada is unlikely to see a big influx of US scientists, say researchers in the field.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the country's medical research funder, chose a middle ground between the House of Lords' decision to permit embryo cloning and the US decision not to allow any new government-sponsored research beyond existing embryonic stem-cell lines.

Federally funded Canadian researchers will be allowed to extract stem cells only from donated embryos that would have otherwise been discarded by fertility clinics. Cloning of human embryos is forbidden.

Guidelines also stipulate that an embryo should be no more than 14 days old and that there be no mixing of human and animal stem cells. The CIHR will create a database of available embryos to try to prevent researchers from starting unnecessary stem-cell lines.

The federal government has drafted legislation on the broader issue of human reproduction but stepped aside to allow the CIHR to set out the rules on stem-cell use. Anne McLellan, the federal health minister, said the upcoming law's sections on stem-cell use will match the CIHR guidelines.

CIHR president Alan Bernstein expects to see human embryonic research applications in the next CIHR funding deadline in October. There is enormous research potential in the area, he said.

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