Brussels, 30 Jun 2003
MEPs who wish to make embryonic stem cell research illegal should talk to the scientific and medical community and think carefully about the consequences of a ban, the incoming chair for the European society of human reproduction and embryology (ESHRE), Arne Sunde, has said.
The debate over using embryonic stem cells for research purposes has taken many twists and turns in recent times. In April, MEPs added amendments prohibiting research designed to create human embryos solely for research purposes and the supplying of stem cells to a proposal on setting standards of quality and safety for the donation, procurement, testing, processing, storage and distribution of human tissues and cells. In June, EU health ministers rejected these amendments, stating that provisions made at EU level would not prevent Member States from maintaining and introducing more stringent protective measures.
However, according to Professor Sunde, fears still remain among experts that those MEPs opposed to embryonic stem cell research will try to make further amendments to the directive proposal at the forthcoming second reading in Parliament. Professor Sunde noted that such amendments would seriously jeopardise progress in understanding the causes of human fertility, and damage the prospect of new treatments for serious diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's:
'ESHRE does understand that the issue of embryonic stem cells is a sensitive one. No one is more aware of that than our members who work with embryos every day. But, my message to those members of the European Parliament who would wish to make embryonic stem cell research illegal, is to talk to the scientific and medical community and to consider very carefully the effect that a ban would have on research and on society's hopes of finding new treatments for some of the most serious and distressing diseases afflicting mankind,' he said.
On the use of alternatives, Professor Sunde said while it is early days, there is some evidence that pluripotent cells, isolated from adult tissues, could become the main source for research and treatment. However, he added that 'there is likely always to be a need to use embryo-isolated stems for specific projects.'
'It's not an either/or situation. Most scientists working with stem cells, whether embryonic or adult, agree that in order to find clinically viable treatments, research must continue on both types. Judging from animal experiments, both cell sources may in the future prove useful. There have been spectacular results using embryonic stem cells in animal models of diseases such as Parkinson's and incurable brain tumours,' said Professor Sunde, explaining his belief in the necessity of carrying out research on both types of cells.