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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Officials from across the nation meet to foster stem-cell research

By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff

About two dozen representatives from state and federal governments are in Cambridge this week as part of a fledgling campaign to improve collaboration among stem-cell scientists by identifying barriers to sharing research material across state lines.

As the pace of stem-cell research hastens, a patchwork of regulations has sprung up. What's legal in one state might not be in another, and scientists have expressed concern that differences in laws could impede research and potentially put researchers in legal jeopardy.

The Interstate Alliance for Stem Cell Research first met in March, and the gathering at the British consulate in Cambridge marks the third session, said Warren Wollschlager, chief of the Office of Research and Development in Connecticut's Department of Public Health.

Nine states that are hotspots of stem-cell research belong to the alliance: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. The British and Canadian governments are also members, as well as the International Society for Stem Cell Research, an independent scientific group established to foster the exchange of information on stem cells.

States differ in their interpretation of what constitutes a legal line of stem cells. In some states, such as New York, scientists hunting for treatments for a disease can produce embryos using sperm and eggs donated by families stricken with the ailment. The resulting stem cells can then be used to understand a disease and to look for treatments. But in Massachusetts, state law does not allow the production of embryos for the express purpose of scientific exploration.

Earlier this month, though, public health regulators in Massachusetts adopted a rule that allows scientists here to accept stem-cell lines from elsewhere, even if they were produced in states with less restrictive laws.

Wollschlager said the interstate consortium wants to assure that no matter where researchers do their work, they can benefit from material developed by colleagues elsewhere.

"If we have new lines being derived at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., we want to make sure they can be used in other states," Wollschlager said.

To that end, one of the alliance's first steps is compiling the laws in different states and analyzing their implications on research. Wollschlager said the consortium is not endeavoring to create "a cookbook for all the states to follow," but to instead share information with states about what regulations worked well and what didn't.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 07:09 PM
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