The UK is a currently a 'world leader' in stem cell research and development, but more investment is needed to maintain its position, according to a new report by a government advisory body. The UK Stem Cell Initiative (UKSCI), set up by Chancellor Gordon Brown in this year's budget, has called for 'at least an additional 350 million pounds over the next decade' for Britain to keep ahead in this field. In a separate announcement, Brown pledged a further 50 million pounds to stem cell research, bringing its total investment so far to 100 million pounds.
The UKSCI is responsible for developing a ten-year plan for stem cell research and development in the UK, starting from next year. In its report, it recommends that the government should provide increased funding and set up public/private partnerships to coordinate and develop stem cell research and technology. Sir John Pattison, chair of the UKSCI, said that 'the ultimate health and wealth gains the UK will enjoy are directly proportional to the additional investment we are proposing'.
The report says that there is a 'strong likelihood' that stem cell research will lead to new treatments for conditions such as Parkinson's disease, diabetes and heart disease. However, it also cautions that it could be decades before many of the new therapies are available. Sir John acknowledged that like any new medical treatment, there are 'substantial gaps in our knowledge' of stem cell therapies, bit added that 'we must foster those who pioneer the applied aspects of our strong basic science'.
The UKSCI also recommends that the government should strengthen the infrastructure supporting UK stem cell research, by consolidating the UK Stem Cell Bank and establishing Centres of Excellence. In addition, it calls for the government and charities to 'develop a dialogue with the public on stem cell research and sustain it over the next ten years'.
Announcing an extra 50 million pounds for stem cell research over the next two years at a biotechnology conference, the Chancellor said: 'Britain should be the world's number one center for genetic and stem cell research, building on our world leading regulatory regime in this area'. The government welcomed the UKSCI report, but made no specific funding pledges. However, Health Minister Jane Kennedy said the long-term commitment to stem cell research should continue, adding 'they have the potential to help millions of people and could lead to new treatments for serious diseases for which there is currently no cure'.
Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Colin Blakemore also welcomed the report's recommendations, and said that the MRC is planning to spend up to another five million pounds to finance the second phase of the UK Stem Cell Bank.