New research on stem cells could mean breakthrough

June 24, 2002

Brussels, 21 June 2002

Adult stem cells could provide the same benefits as embryonic stem cells according to new research carried out in the USA and published in the journal Nature .

Injecting adult stem cells into mouse embryos showed that these cells could transform into most types of cells. Another piece of research, also published in Nature, indicates that embryonic stem cells can generate neurons in the brain, thereby providing a means of tackling the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

The use of adult stem cells would sidestep ethical objections which have been raised concerning the use of embryonic cells, which need to be taken from five day-old embryos which are destroyed in the process. The latest research took adult rodent stem cells and cultured them and then, within the cultures, the researchers found more powerful stem cells named multipotent adult progenitor cells or MAPC. Interestingly, MAPCs have also been found in human bone marrow.

But Professor Catherine Verfaillie, who was part of the research team at the University of Minnesota, which found the results, said it is too early to assess whether these MAPCs would have the same versatility to transform into all of the cells which embryonic stem cells can develop into.

In a separate development, Canada has tabled legislation which clarifies its position on human embryo research. Described as somewhere between the restrictive conditions of the USA and the relatively expansive law in the UK, the Canadian Act respecting assisted human reproduction prevents human cloning but permits research on human embryos. Creating embryos for research will be banned, but a new regulatory agency will be formed to which researchers will have to apply in order to access embryos created at fertility clinics but which are no longer needed.

For further information on the Canadian position, please consult the following web address:

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2001

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