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Thread: EU funding of human embryonic stem cell research: the saga continues

  1. #1
    Senior Member
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    Jun 2005

    EU funding of human embryonic stem cell research: the saga continues

    EU funding of human embryonic stem cell research: the saga continues
    Release date: 02 May 2006
    by Dr Alison Stewart of Cambridge Genetics Knowledge Park

    Human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research is highly contentious in the countries of the European Union. The stance taken by individual member states ranges from a complete ban on deriving stem cells from human embryos (for example, Austria and Ireland) to a much more permissive policy allowing the creation of embryos for research purposes, and the derivation of stem cells by 'therapeutic cloning' technology (for example, the UK and Belgium).

    So it's not surprising that it has proved virtually impossible to reach a political consensus on whether the EU should fund research on hESCs. When I last wrote for BioLines on this topic, back in December 2003, the Council of Ministers (consisting of Ministers from the individual EU member states) was deadlocked on a decision about a set of 'implementing provisions' to enable hESC research to be supported by Framework Programme 6 (FP6) funding.

    During 2003, pending these provisions, there was a moratorium on funding of research that included the derivation of stem cells from human embryos.

    I wrote in December 2003 'It is not known whether Ireland, which takes over the EU Presidency on 1 January [2004] will decide to re-open the issue'. Well, Ireland decided not to touch it with a barge pole.

    So a Very European Solution was cooked up. Under the EU's Comitology Rules, the European Commission can implement a proposal on which the Council has made no decision.

    The Commission decided to carry on with a set of 'procedural modalities', put in place during 2003, that had enabled research projects involving banked or isolated hESCs in culture to be considered for funding during the period of the moratorium. However, as the moratorium had now expired, the restriction on projects that included the derivation of stem cells was removed.

    The 'procedural modalities' that have been in operation since January 2004 - and have essentially allowed funding of hESC research projects to be considered on a case by case basis - require a scientific assessment of the 'necessity' for the research; satisfactory ethical review to ensure, for example, that embryo donors had given adequate consent and not received payment; and approval by an EU regulatory committee including representatives from all member states. Approval can only be given where it does not contravene the national laws of the country in which the research is to be carried out.

    In practice, things have gone pretty smoothly. Only proposals involving existing hESC lines have been submitted - side-stepping the most likely source of contention - and the ethical and regulatory review process, although cumbersome, appears to have worked satisfactorily.

    So we've muddled through FP6 but what about FP7? The European Commission, and many researchers, were hoping that the same provisions might be quietly carried over to the new programme without much fuss. But no such luck.

    A warning shot has already been fired by science ministers from a group of EU countries (Germany, Austria, Malta, Italy, Poland and Slovakia) that do not allow research on human embryos. At a meeting of EU science ministers in March, they proposed a blanket ban on EU funding of hESC research, even in countries where this research is legal.

    A decision on funding for hESC cell research under FP7 is expected within weeks - but that might still not be the end of the story. Even if the decision is positive, countries that are opposed could still form a blocking minority within the Council of Ministers. As with FP6, this one could run and run ...

    Dr Alison Stewart is Chief Knowledge Officer at Cambridge Genetics Knowledge Park.

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2005

    Question Future European rallies in Brussels

    With the restrictive line from EU on this subject and also like it says here in the last paragraph this one could run and run and at the same time having the Washington DC rallies ongoing right now gives me some ideas, - could the EU stand when it comes to funding this be a reason for creating future rallies similar to the DC rallies in EU and in the city of Brussels? Just put together all the European organisations for neurodegenerative diseases like SCI, MS and Parkinson’s etc. and have this going – who voluntaries to take care of it?

  3. #3
    No surprise that Ireland failed to touch on the stem cell issue while holding presidency of EU Commission. The Church still has a powerful influence on all matters, despite some letting go over the last 20 years.

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