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Italian human stem cell scientists lose funding battle

14 December 2009
Appeared in BioNews 538
A group of Italian scientists have lost an appeal to challenge a research funding call that excludes embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research even though the technique is lawful in the country, Nature reports. The Italian health ministry put together an expert committee to produce a set of proposals to attract funding, after the previous stem cell research fund was marred in controversy following allegations that funds were being distributed in a non-transparent and arbitrary manner. The final report of the committee, however, specifically excluded ES cell research from its recommendations.

Vittorio Angiolini, a lawyer acting on behalf of the three scientists who sought to challenge the limitation on the ground that it infringes the 'constitutional freedom of scientific research', filed their appeal with Rome's administrative court last June. The group lost their case and their final appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court was lost on 2 December.

According to Elisabetta Cerbai, a pharmacologist from the University of Florence and one of the scientists who challenged the decision, the original draft for the call for funding did not exclude ES cell research. 'We don't know where the sentence that was added came from,' she said, speaking last July, adding: '…we suspect that a compromise deal may have been made at high political levels'. The exclusion became known once the text was published following a meeting of representatives of the twenty Italian national health regions. Ferruccio Fazio, the health minister who established the committee, declined to comment when Nature went to press with the story but has elsewhere suggested the exclusion was added by the regions, although a representative at the conference denied that any such changes to the text were made at the event.

Speaking at the time, Cerbai explained that their appeal 'is a matter of principle'. 'Politicians should decide strategic research objectives and leave scientists to choose how best to achieve those objectives,' she said.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Appeal lost
Nature News |  9 December 2009
Italians sue over stem cells
Nature News |  1 July 2009
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