EGE presents stem cell opinion to Romano Prodi

May 9, 2002

Brussels, 08 May 2002

An opinion on the ethical conditions and limits of the patenting of human stem cells was presented to European Commission President Romano Prodi by the European group on ethics in science and new technologies (EGE) on 7 May.

The group's chairman, Noëlle Lenoir, explained that the EGE's 'Opinion on ethical aspects of patenting inventions involving human stem cells' seeks to address the ethical dilemma between the use of patents to encourage scientific progress and the restrictive effect they can have by forcing scientists to pay fees to patent-holders.

The EGE opinion states that only human stem cell lines which have been modified through an inventive process to obtain new characteristics for specific industrial application should be patentable.

Ms Lenoir gave the example of stem cells which have been modified using a specific technique to turn them into muscle tissue. Stem cells which have been isolated and cultured, but not modified, should not be considered as patentable inventions, the group says.

EGE Member Professor Gunter Virt expressed a dissident view on the use of human embryonic stem cells. Professor Virt believes that a human being arises at the moment of fertilisation and there should therefore be a ban on the formation and exploitation of stem cells from human embryos. He also believes that patenting will encourage research on embryonic stem cells and so draw focus away from the use of alternatives, such as adult stem cells.

Ms Lenoir said the expression of divergent views during the group's discussion of stem cells 'shows that there are limitations to harmonisation.' She explained that the drawing up of the opinion acted as 'a forum for dialogue and an arena for expressing views.'

The EGE has also called for the creation of an EU register of unmodified human stem cell lines, which it says could be used to ensure transparency and facilitate access for the research community.

Ms Lenoir explained that the EGE's opinion, which will be passed to the European Parliament and the President of the European Council as well as Mr Prodi, will help to clarify the current state of the debate in the wake of the 1998 EU Directive on the legal protection of biotechnological inventions.

At the presentation, Ms Lenoir also announced her decision to resign from the group following 11 years as a member and eight as its Chairman. Mr Prodi described Ms Lenoir's achievements at the head of the group as 'remarkable.'

For further information, please contact:

EGE Secretariat
Christiane Bardoux
Fax: +32 2 299 4565

Agueda Ollero Montiel
Tel: +32 2 295 7135

or consult the following web address: p_ethics

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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