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Panel Calls for National Stem Cell Standards

Guidelines Would Set Common Standards for Embryonic Stem Cell Research
WebMD Health News

April 26, 2005 --The National Academy of Sciences has recommended new ethical guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research, hoping to set common standards for states, universities, and companies.

Experts say they hope that researchers who use stem cells in the search for new cures will adopt the voluntary guidelines. The proposal includes establishing independent boards to review future studies involving human embryos. A ban is recommended on any financial payments to individuals or clinics involved in the donation of sperm, eggs, or embryos.

The U.S. lacks nationwide standards for most embryonic stem cell research because federal funding for studies is highly limited. A decision by President Bush in August 2001 restricted funding for research on embryonic stem cells to some 77 stem cell lines that were already in existence at the time.

Federal rules on embryonic stem cell research apply only to research on these lines.

Embryonic stem cell research is controversial because the stem cells are taken from a human embryo, which is destroyed in the process.

Most states have no policy on embryonic stem cell research. Four states, including California and Massachusetts, have laws set up for state-funded research. Several other states have banned the cloning technologies needed to conduct the studies. The result has been a patchwork of standards that experts warn could be a hurdle as future scientists seek to collaborate on research studies, academy committee members say.

Guidelines Call for Research Oversight Committees

Experts have also expressed a desire to set early limits on the research, calling for restrictions on stem cell research involving the transfer of human cells into laboratory animals. Guidelines also call for strict standards of informed consent for donors whose cells or embryos could be used in future stem cell studies.

"There's significant public support for this research, it's ongoing, and there needs to be thought about how it's to be done properly," says Richard O. Hynes, PhD, a cancer researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a co-chairman of the committee issuing the recommendations.

The standards call for a strict record-keeping system that tracks the source and genetic makeup of all embryos used in research. It also calls for strict confidentiality standards designed to protect the privacy of any donors who elect to give their eggs, sperm, or embryos for study.

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