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Thursday, February 1, 2007

Stem cell guidelines drafted by Children's doctor

Scientists have released the most comprehensive set of rules yet to govern the ethically charged field of embryonic stem cell research.

The guidelines, put together by the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) under the direction of Children’s Hospital Boston scientist Dr. George Q. Daley, calls for special oversight of embryonic stem cell research.

george q. daleyg_w.jpg
Dr. George Q. Daley, Children's Hospital Boston

The guidelines are very similar to a report issued in 2005 by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, but are designed to apply to scientists around the world, not just American scientists.

The rules include bans on: growing human embryos in a dish for more than 14 days; breeding animals which might have human eggs or sperm; and, using cloning technology in an attempt to create a live human child. All are widely viewed as anathema by stem cell researchers today.

Embryonic stem cell research has been controversial because scientist break apart human embryos – which some consider to be human lives – in order to obtain the stem cells. This is typically done using frozen embryos that would otherwise be discarded by fertility clinics. It has also been controversial because some scientists, including Daley, plan to use cloning.

Critics charge that this means scientists are creating human embryos with plans to destroy them. Defenders counter that the technique will allow them to study diseases in entirely new ways.

The ISSCR panel was divided on another hot-button ethical issue: Whether researchers should be allowed to pay woman to donate eggs for research. Fertility clinics pay, but scientists have shied away from the practice.

The guidelines have no legal force, but the authors called on the editors of top scientific journals to make following the rules a prerequisite for publication. A summary of the guidelines appears in the current issue of the journal Science.

-Gareth Cook

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 12:21 PM
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