View Full Version : Canada losing ground in stem cell research

11-25-2005, 12:05 PM

Canada losing ground in stem cell research
Michelle LangCalgary Herald

Friday, November 25, 2005

http://a123.g.akamai.net/f/123/12465/1d/media.canada.com/idl/cahr/20051125/86100-29646.jpgCREDIT: Ted Jacob, Calgary HeraldTania Bubela, researcher at University of Alberta Health and Law Institute, speaks about politics and stem cell research during a conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Thursday.

Canada is in danger of losing its status as a pioneer of international stem cell research because of its laws restricting experiments on human embryos, an expert said Thursday at a Calgary conference.
While countries like Britain are forging ahead with leading-edge experiments involving creating cloned human embryos, Canadian legislation prohibiting the practice ensures research in this country isn't competitive, said Rosario Isasi.

Stem cells from human embryos are valued by scientists for their ability to grow into any type of tissue, offering promise to cure or treat diseases ranging from Parkinson's to diabetes.

"The great achievements we've made in the past are just part of our history now," the University of Montreal researcher said, noting Canadian scientists were the first to identify stem cells 40 years ago.

Isasi, who has studied stem cell regulations in 50 countries, made the remarks on the second day of a Stem Cell Network conference.
Embryonic stem cell research has been embroiled in controversy for years, with opponents arguing embryos constitute a human life. Creating cloned human embryos, even if it's simply for research purposes, is even more deeply divisive.

In Canada, Parliament granted researchers the right to experiment on stem cells from human embryos, which are left over from fertility clinics. However, the spring 2004 legislation banned cloning.

Isasi said that decision could put Canadian researchers at a competitive disadvantage to Britain, South Korea and Singapore -- countries that allow the controversial practice. Cloning stem cells is thought to be of benefit because there is less chance of rejection when the cells are implanted, she said.

Dr. Michael Rudnicki, scientific director of the Ottawa-based Stem Cell Network, said the new legislation hasn't held back researchers yet, although he said Canada should review the legislation. Officials with the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute, which opposes embryonic stem cell research and cloning, agreed there's no evidence Canada has fallen behind the U.K. or other countries.

"These are advances that may be happening in the future," said institute director Moira McQueen. "They haven't been applied to humans yet."
But some researchers say Canada could "miss the boat" in future embryonic stem cell advances with the current restrictions on cloning.
"If that boat ever launches, we can't be on it," said Tania Bubela of the University of Alberta.

Bubela, who studied the political discussion around Canada's 2004 stem cell legislation, said the cloning issue was never debated in Parliament. Her study found few politicians taking a strong stand in favour of embryonic stem cell research.

Although Canada's legislation in the area pledges to revisit the issue in the coming years, Bubela said it will be difficult to restart the debate before it is too late.

"Three years is a long time in science," she said.