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Germany amends ES cell research law

14 April 2008
Appeared in BioNews 453

The lower house of the German Federal Parliament last week voted to ease restrictions on human embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research. The Bundestag decided by 346 votes to 228 to allow scientists to import human ES cells created before the 1 May 2007, after researchers expressed concern that too few cell lines were available to them to effectively perform the research.

Under existing German law stem cell researchers may only use imported stem cells derived from embryos created before 1 January 2002, after the Bundestag banned the extraction of stem cells from embryos in 2001. The decision to move the cut-off date was reached as a compromise between removing the prohibition and halting all such research in Germany.

'The current qualifying date rule, in particular, strongly impedes German stem cell research,' said Professor Jorg Hinrich Hacker of the German Research Foundation (DFG). 'The best thing for basic research would be if this qualifying date rule, a deadline which restricts the period in which embryonic stem cell lines are allowed to be imported, were to be abolished altogether.'

Human embryo research is a sensitive subject in Germany, due to the history of Nazi medical experiments on humans, as well as the difficult ethical issue of destroying embryos used in research. At the German Bishops' Conference, the Archbishop of Freiburg Robert Zollitsch warned against easing the current restrictions. 'Freedom of research must not be weighed against the fundamental protection of life', he said.

Technology Minister Annette Schavan welcomed the move. Speaking ahead of the vote she said: 'I think... moving the date is right so as to maintain the small corridor for research which the 2002 stem cell law provided'. The DFG emphasised the need to review the current restrictions in light of recent international progress in ES cell research. 'There are more than 500 cell lines worldwide, but German researchers are only allowed to use 21 old cell lines, which are in part contaminated and have developed in such a way that in some cases they are no longer comparable', said Hacker. German researchers will now be able to enter into international collaborations using ES cells created before 1 May 2007.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Germany eases law on stem cells
BBC News Online |  11 April 2008
Germany Eases Stem Cell Restrictions
Deutsche Welle |  11 April 2008
Qualifying date rule hinders German stem cell research
EurekaAlert |  9 April 2008
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