International Funding and the Legalities of Stem Cell Research

22 04 2011

By: Natalie Shuster

Human embryonic stem cell colony phase

Human embryonic stem cell colony phase

In the United States the funding and promotion of stem cell research from embryonic stem cells is a deeply rooted topic of debate within U.S.legislation. At a federal level, scientists can’t use government money to create new embryonic stem cell lines. All publicly funded work is confined to the 61 stem cell lines already in existence in 2001, when the ban on deriving new lines was implemented.

In July 2006 President Bush vetoed a Bill lifting that ban, based on his opposition to the use of public funds for projects involving the destruction of human embryos – the first time in his presidency he had refused to sign into law a Bill approved by Congress. Individual states have the authority to pass laws to permit human embryonic stem cell research using state funds. Several states have changed their legislation accordingly, including Connecticut, Massachusetts, California, and Illinois. This has enabled the establishment of California’s $3 billion Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

While stem cell research has fallen from prominence in recent years, within the political arena, the issue of funding is still pertinent to scientists across the nation. Interestingly enough, when viewing funding and legislative issues in other countries throughout the world, there are vast differences in both the acceptance of stem cell research and the resources allocated for said research.

When viewing the European Union (EU), made-up of 27 member states, there are various differences regarding hES1 (human Embryonic Stem cells) cell research. As of 2007, 10 states had no legislation on hES1 cell research, 11 states allowed for the procurement of hES1 cells from super-numary embryos by law, and 3 states allow for the creation of human embryos for procurement of hES1 cells by law. Countries like Belgium, Sweden, and the UK, allow for the procurement of human embryonic stem cells from surplus IVF embryos and, in particular circumstances (e.g. to study a particular serious disease), the creation of human embryos for the procurement of human embryonic stem cells. At the other end of the spectrum,Germany andItaly prohibit the procurement of human embryonic stem cells from human embryos, whileAustria,Bulgaria,Cyprus,Ireland,Lithuania,Luxembourg,Malta,Poland,Romania andSlovakia have no specific legislation at all in this area.

According to an analysis on laws affecting stem cell research,Singapore has “the most aggressive country in the world in its efforts to become a leader in human embryonic stem cell (HESC) research.” The legal regime inSingapore is highly supportive of matters related to HESC research, such as the availability and harvesting of embryonic stem cell sources.South Korea has also emerged at the forefront of international stem cell research through considerable government funding. Other Pacific Rim countries, such asAustralia andJapan, more legal components associated with HESC research, which translates into “considerably less scientific and economic development with respect to HESC research within the borders of these countries.”

While some countries rely on government funding and others on private donors there are vast differences among not only funding practices, but also the legalities associated with embryonic stem cell research throughout the world. Political turmoil and lack of regulation has proved advantageous for advancing stem cell technology and research within many countries. However, with minimal oversight comes an increase in controversy and the need to assess differing global values and perspectives. It is important that policy makers find the balance between adhering to cultural beliefs, morals and values, while being sure not to limit the availability of resources and scopes of research, to the point where science in the field cannot advance. As stated in the Journal of BioLaw and Business “those countries that have taken the biggest political and economic risks will reap the largest rewards.”

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