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JonesESCRegulationInternatHumRepro06-1-1 - Human...

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Human Reproduction Vol.21, No.5 pp. 1113–1116, 2006 doi:10.1093/humrep/dei461 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. 1113 For Permissions, please email: [email protected] OPINION Navigating the quagmire: the regulation of human embryonic stem cell research D.G.Jones 1 and C.R.Towns Department of Anatomy and Structural Biology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand 1 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 protected] 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 in vitro fertilization 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 research. Key words : embryonic stem cells/ethical consistency/regulations Introduction 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 et al ., 1998; Zhao et al ., 2002; Johnson et al ., 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 of Stem Cell Research, 2002). Additionally, the self-renewal capacity of AS cells is yet to be fully substantiated. Hence,
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