Panel Calls for National Stem Cell Standards
Guidelines Would Set Common Standards for Embryonic Stem Cell Research
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
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
"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.
The guidelines echo several international standards by limiting research to
embryos that are within 14 days of fertilization.
They also advise all universities, companies, or any other groups that
conduct stem cell studies to establish embryonic stem cell research oversight
committees. These committees -- made up of scientists, ethicists, lawyers, and
others -- would provide "an additional level of review" to monitor all
stem cell studies. Panelists say the committees would provide review over the
institutional review boards that now monitor human subjects' research at most
The academy issued the guidelines in response to a request from scientific
organizations that have long called for unified ethical standards. Researchers
remain concerned that differing rules could make it impossible for scientists
to share research materials or study designs across state lines.