Genetics, Research: US Senate hears alternatives
to embryonic stem cells
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
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.
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
“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
Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation
report on human embryonic stem cell research [
Group on Ethics