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US and Canada continue to debate stem cell research

16 June 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 212

At a US Senate hearing last week, the Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space heard testimonies from doctors, scientists and patients that there are better 'alternatives' to human embryonic stem cell research (ES cell). The panel heard about ongoing research into the use of adult stem cells and the benefits of using umbilical cord blood transplants as a source of stem cells.

One researcher testified that there is 'abundant evidence' that adult stem cells can be used to treat patients, adding that 'the conclusion from the pre-clinical studies is that adult stem cells work just as well if not better than ES cells and are probably safer'. Other doctors said using adult stem cells in treatments would 'avoid the moral issues' associated with ES stem cell use. But Dr John McDonald, from Washington University said that all areas of research, including ES cell research, should continue, because 'it's entirely too early to rule out any one of these areas of research in favour of any other'.

A 17 year old, who was born with sickle cell anaemia, told the committee that he underwent a cord blood transplant and is due to graduate from school, adding that five years ago, people said he'd never live this long. And a former leukaemia patient said that newborn cord blood from a cord blood bank provided him with his only stem cell match and he is now free from cancer. Senator Brownback, chair of the Senate subcommittee and a known opponent of ES cell research, said that he would push for federal funding for a national cord blood bank.

Meanwhile, scientists in Canada have said they will go ahead with stem cell research, despite the fact a law regulating such research has not yet passed through parliament. Saying they are unwilling to be delayed any longer, the scientists will use guidelines issued by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). A group of 65 scientists and other researchers plan to seek funds from the CIHR for two ES cell projects. The legislation covering ES cell research has been delayed by the summer adjournment of the Canadian parliament. Prior to the summer break, the bill was facing opposition from other parties and from within the government's own ranks. The government says the bill will proceed for its third and final reading when parliament reconvenes in mid-September.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Alternatives to human stem cells promoted
Yahoo Daily News |  12 June 2003
Scientists won't wait for stem cell law
Canada.com |  16 June 2003
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