Scientists at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto have developed Canada's first two human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) lines. The researchers, led by Andras Nagy, say they will share the cell lines with other stem cell scientists in Canada and abroad. Nagy said he hoped the work would 'ultimately bring Canada and the world closer to treating or curing diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes and spinal cord injuries'. Nagy also said that Canadian research into stem cells had been lagging behind other countries, but added 'we are going to catch up'.
Many scientists hope that research into ES cells will lead to new cell-based therapies for a range of conditions. However, work on human ES cells is restricted or banned in many countries, since it involves the destruction of very early embryos. In Canada, a law passed last year bans the creation of human embryos for research purposes, but allows ES cell research on embryos left over from fertility treatments. The new legislation bans cloning, for either reproductive or therapeutic purposes. Also built into the Act is a provision stating that it must be reviewed - and may therefore be altered - in three years time.
The stem cell oversight committee of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research ensured the new ES cells were produced in a manner consistent with the country's stem cell guidelines. The cells have also been certified by the International Stem Cell Initiative, which is based in the UK. Canada's Stem Cell Network, a group of around 70 of the country's leading stem cell researchers, clinicians, ethicists and engineers, will oversee the use of the new cell lines. 'Having our own cell lines gives Canadian researchers access to a valuable research tool', said the network's scientific director Michael Rudnicki, adding 'they are a valuable contribution to stem cell research on a global scale'.