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King's College London - Health: More than a medical matter

EU urged to continue funding stem cell research

25 June 2012

By Antony Blackburn-Starza

Appeared in BioNews 662

Six major UK research funding bodies have called for the continued funding of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research in the EU's programme for research and development.

A joint statement urging the European Parliament, European Commission and EU member states to support hESC funding, states: 'To maintain its global edge in this area of research, Europe must ensure all avenues of stem cell research continue to be financially supported'.

The European Parliament is currently debating its provisions for funding research and innovation under the proposed €80 billion Horizon 2020 programme, which will run from 2014 to 2020. The programme succeeds the current framework under which funding for hESC research is permitted.

Although the draft regulations include provisions for hESC research, supporters have raised concerns that lobbying by pro-life MEPs and some member states could mean funding is excluded. The European Court of Justice has recently ruled that patents on processes which use human embryos or require the destruction of human embryos are not patentable (reported in BioNews 630).

Opponents of hESC research argue it holds little therapeutic potential and funding should be restricted to research using adult cells, highlighting developments in creating induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) using adult skin cells means research on embryos is no longer necessary.

The joint statement, however, says all types of stem cells, including hESCs, have the potential to make advances in regenerative medicine and should be supported. 'It is too early to tell which route will be the most effective, for ultimate clinical use, so it is essential to keep all avenues of research open', it says. 'Any move to make hESC research ineligible for Horizon 2020 funding would risk holding back progress across the entire field'.

The joint statement was signed by the Association of Medical Research Charities, which represents 124 research charities in the UK; the British Heart Foundation; the European Genetic Alliances' Network; the Medical Research Council (MRC); Parkinson's UK and the Wellcome Trust.

Professor Sir John Savill, chief executive of the MRC, said it was 'absolutely vital' for funding to be maintained. 'European scientists are leading the way in this field and the first clinical trial of a hESC treatment for a form of blindness has recently received regulatory approval in the UK', he said. 'To derail such promising science based on the objections of a minority of member states, who do not wish their scientists to carry out this research, would be unwise and unfair, particularly to patients'.

Sir Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, said although the funding allocated to such research under Horizon 2020 is likely to be small compared to the overall budget, closing it down would be a 'massive blow' to scientific research. 'It will significantly set back research into very serious diseases including Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis and is likely to cost European research its competitive advantage', he said.

The joint statement supports the three main kinds of stem cell – hESCs, adult stem cells and fetal stem cells – arguing regenerative medicine has the potential to treat or cure neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson's and chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease. It says iPS cells are currently not safe enough to transplant into people and more research is needed to develop them to a standard suitable for therapeutic use.

Embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, are not derived through genetic modification, thus avoiding associated issues around safety and function, and have already begun to be used in clinical trials. The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has approved Europe's first clinical trial hESCs to treat Stargardt's macular dystrophy, a genetic condition that causes blindness (reported in BioNews 626).



14 January 2013 - by Sarah Guy 
The US Supreme Court has declined to hear a final appeal seeking to challenge the legality of using public money to fund embryonic stem cell (hESC) research... [Read More]
17 December 2012 - by Julian Hitchcock 
In November the case of Brüstle v Greenpeace was remitted to the German Federal High Court. How would a national court interpret the controversial ruling of the Court of Justice of the European Union which held that patent rights could not be granted in the EU for the use of any entity 'capable of commencing the process of development of a human being'?... [Read More]
12 November 2012 - by Dr Rachael Panizzo 
The Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council have announced a £12.75 million investment to create a database of induced pluripotent stem) cells.... [Read More]
08 October 2012 - by Tom Barrow 
The future funding of human embryonic stem cell research under the European Union may be in jeopardy after its inclusion in the next research funding programme is challenged by MEPs.... [Read More]
09 July 2012 - by Dr Sophie Pryor 
Stem cells taken from amniotic fluid can be reprogrammed into a more versatile state similar to embryonic stem cells (ES cells) without the introduction of extra genes, UK scientists have found. The discovery offers hope that these cells could be banked for therapeutic use, research and drug screening... [Read More]

31 January 2012 - by Dr Amy Strange 
The recent ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) excluding inventions relating to human embryonic stem cells (ES cells) from patentability has sparked a heated debate in the bioscience, ethics and law communities... [Read More]
31 January 2012 - by Dr Dusko Ilic 
In the last few months of 2011, a couple of stories on human embryonic stem cells hit the headlines. Both were bad news for stem cell researchers... [Read More]
19 December 2011 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
A survey of over 200 human embryonic stem cell (hESC) researchers in the US has found almost four in ten respondents had experienced delays in obtaining cell lines and over one-quarter said they were unable to obtain a required cell line at all.... [Read More]
12 December 2011 - by Julianna Photopoulos 
A new Technology and Innovation Centre in Cell Therapy will open in London and receive funding of up to £50 million, the Technology Strategy Board announced. The new cell therapy centre, due to open in April 2012, is part of a £220 million programme to boost technology and manufacturing in the UK... [Read More]
24 October 2011 - by Antony Blackburn-Starza 
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that stem cell processes which require the prior destruction of human embryos or are based upon the use of human embryos are not patentable. The decision may have wide implications for scientists engaged in embryonic stem cell research.... [Read More]

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