Human Reproduction Vol.21, No.5 pp. 1113–1116, 2006
Advance Access publication December 16, 2005.
© The Author 2005. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. All rights reserved.
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Navigating the quagmire: the regulation of human embryonic stem cell
Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
To whom correspondence should be addressed at: Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, University of Otago, PO Box 913,
Dunedin, New Zealand. E-mail: email@example.com
Embryonic stem (ES) cell research has garnered almost unprecedented attention. Debate over the boundaries of such
research is ongoing, and the regulation of the field varies widely between countries. This article identifies and evalu-
ates the four major positions that emanate from current international regulations. ES cell policies may ultimately
impact on public health, and hence they must be both rigorous and transparent. We contend that these goals will only
be achieved if policy is both ethically consistent and clinically realistic with regard to the ability to achieve therapeu-
tic goals. We conclude that policies allowing the ongoing extraction of stem cells from spare
embryos and the creation of embryos for research (within set limitations) cope most adequately with the tension
between varying views on the moral status of the human embryo and the therapeutic potential inherent within ES cell
: embryonic stem cells/ethical consistency/regulations
The potential of embryonic stem (ES) cells appears to be revo-
lutionary. If this potential is even only partially realized, regen-
erative medicine could transcend barriers in ways only barely
imagined at present.
There are two characteristics of ES cells underpinning this
therapeutic potential, self-renewal (i.e. the ability of the cell to
replicate for a prolonged period of time) and pluripotency (i.e.
the ability to generate any cell type). It is this latter property
that distinguishes ES cells from any other human material
including adult stem (AS) cells (Towns and Jones, 2004a).
Although several experiments indicate that AS cells
have some plasticity (Ferrari
., 1998; Zhao
., 2005), care should be taken in interpreting
these results. Claims of AS cell pluripotency are undermined
by questions surrounding the accurate identification of prod-
uct cells, the frequency at which such events occur and
whether the observed effects are due to hybrid formation
rather than transdifferentiation. Overall, there are few con-
firmed reports of pluripotent adult human stem cells, and
even these may not stand up to serious critical assessment
(Committee on the Biological and Biomedical Applications