As the new year gets underway, young researchers in cutting-edge
and politically contentious fields are forced to examine how
their respective sectors have progressed over the past year
and the direction they will take in the new one. Human stem
cell research has arguably been one of the most debated scientific
issues at national and European levels in recent years. As
such, a recent Science article had a look at the
state of affairs for stem cell research in Europe. The magazine
took stock of human stem cell policy across the EU and examined
its effects on young researchers making career choices in
an equally nascent field. Several researchers point to such
initiatives as Marie-Curie mobility grants and the flagship
project EuroStemCell, funded by the EU's framework programme,
as reasons why they have chosen to tie their careers to Europe's
stem cell future.
As human stem cell research is debated in legislatures across Europe, laboratories have moved ahead with their work operating under the prevailing regulatory regimes of their home country. With such regulations in mind, young researchers have established themselves in the country best suited for their career aspirations. Career choices for stem cell researchers often play out on two levels. Once political obstacles have been effectively avoided, scientists often then have financial hurdles to address.
European policies are attracting more and more
young researchers interested in stem cells.
Although certain countries may allow human stem cell research,
such projects must compete with more traditional research for
grants, requiring them to look to EU funding to get off the
ground. Science highlighted Greek researcher Evangelia
Papadimou's career path as one that has consistently been
aided by EU-supported initiatives.
Dr Papadimou obtained a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University
of Patras before becoming interested in embryonic stem cell
research. She was able to follow her interests thanks to a Marie
Curie Fellowship, which funded to a two-year post-doctorial
stint in France. She hoped to continue her work in France, although
regulations current at that time prevented her from doing so.
Paradoxically, she found a position in Italy, one of the strictest
countries when it comes to stem cells, according to Science.
She began work at the University of Milan which was participating
in the EuroStemCell project.
“All [public] funding agencies and most private agencies
exclude research on human lines,” Elena Cattaneo, head
of the Laboratory of Stem Cell Biology and Pharmacology of Neurodegenerative
Diseases at the University of Milan, where Dr Papadimou conducts
her research, told Science. “If you want to work on human
embryonic stem cell lines, the only hope is to get an EU grant.”
In general, liberal policies towards human stem cell research
have made Europe an attractive destination for experts from
around the world, according to Science. Some point
to the international networks facilitated by EuroStemCell as
reasons why Europe is the place best suited to conduct such
“You know what people are doing…[and] who to contact.
And they will know you, which makes a big difference,”
Malin Parmar, a Swedish post-doc researcher at EuroStemCell
participant University of Edingburgh told Science.