Genetics, Research: US Senate hears alternatives to embryonic stem cells

July 7, 2003

Brussels, 04 Jul 2003

As the controversy surrounding therapeutic cloning continues in the United States, scientists told the US Senate that viable alternatives to human embryonic stem cell research could help sidestep the related 'moral issues'.

Scientists told a special panel of the US Senate - America's upper house - that alternatives to human embryonic stem cells, including adult stem cells and umbilical blood transplants, have a proven track record in medical research.

One researcher said that there is 'abundant evidence' that adult stem cells can be used to treat patients. "The conclusion from the preclinical studies is that adult stem cells work just as well, if not better, than embryonic stem cells and are probably safer," Jean Peduzzi-Nelson of the University of Alabama (USA) said.

The White House is strongly opposed to cloning, including therapeutic cloning, which is also known as regenerative medicine. Two years ago, President George W Bush imposed strict limits on stem cell research, which scientists say have crippled the field in the USA. The House of Representatives - America's lower house - has twice voted to ban stem cell research, while the Senate is still deliberating the issue.

For its part, the American Medical Association has just come out in favour of the use of early embryos as a source for stem cells.

Some doctors at the Senate hearing suggested that using adult stem cells would help break the deadlock over the moral issues associated with embryonic stem cells, and pave the way for the development of treatments for a range of degenerative diseases from Alzheimer's to cancer.

Early days

Despite the potential of adult stem cells and blood from the umbilical cord, some scientists at the hearing cautioned against rushing to close off potential avenues of research in this fledgling field.

"It's entirely too early to rule out any one of these areas of research in favour of any other," said John McDonald of Washington University. On the other side of the Atlantic, Europe is engaging in its own debate on human embryonic stem cell research. The question of funding of such research was left open during negotiations for the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6).

The Commission agreed temporarily not to fund research projects in this area, with the exception of banked or isolated human embryonic stem cells in culture. The Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and the Commission agreed to decide on this issue in the course of 2003. The Commission recently released a report on the various issues surrounding human embryonic stem cells, which laid the groundwork for an inter-institutional debate on the funding of such research. The Commission now intends to submit to the Council and Parliament a proposal for establishing guidelines for EU funding of research projects involving human embryos and human embryonic stem cells in the context of FP6.

Source: EU and external sources

More Information:

Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation

Commission report on human embryonic stem cell research [1.50 MB]

European Group on Ethics

DG Research ndex_en.html ciety/news_events/news_gene_research_en. htm

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