More MS news articles for June 2002

Singapore Committee Recommends Regulated Stem Cell Research; Cloning Prohibited

Jun 21, 2002
By Pooja Vig
SINGAPORE (Reuters Health)

Singapore's Bioethics Advisory Committee today proposed recommendations to permit tightly regulated human stem cell research and therapeutic cloning while completely banning human reproductive cloning.

The committee said research on human embryonic stem cells should be allowed in instances where strong medical and scientific merit is demonstrated. In these cases, the first choice would be to use existing embryonic cell lines.

In recognizing the limitations of relying solely on existing cell lines, the committee allows the use of surplus in-vitro-fertilization (IVF) embryos that are less than 14 days old--the point at which the first organs begin to develop--as a source of stem cells.

The committee also allows the creation of embryos for research on a stringently controlled, case-by-case basis. Such research, where a human embryo is cloned for medical treatments, could be important because it would allow the creation of perfect-match tissue.

"In my view, we are not ready to create new embryos for research," Dr. Alan Colman, Chief Scientific Officer of ES Cell International and creator of the cloned sheep, Dolly, told Reuters Health. "We are still in the process of learning to work with and solve the many problems connected with available embryonic cells; it would be premature to create new ones."

Dr. Colman recently left PPL Therapeutics to join the Australia-Singapore venture, ES Cell International, where he will concentrate on developing insulin-secreting cells from stem cells.

The government-appointed committee has released 11 core recommendations that essentially state that human cloning is banned, reinforce the need to monitor embryonic stem cell research, and ensure that appropriate consent is sought from all cell and tissue donors. One of the recommendations is that the government set up a statutory authority to stringently oversee and license all human stem cell research conducted in Singapore.

Singapore's government is reviewing the proposed framework, which is the result of extensive discussion with interest groups, the general public, and local and international experts. If these recommendations are approved and implemented, as is likely, Singapore's regulatory guidelines for stem cell research will be similar to Britain's progressive approach.

"We believe we have taken into account all points of view and concerns to create a framework that allows important medical research to continue while maintaining respect for the embryo," said Dr. Lim Pin of the University of Singapore and chairman of the bioethics committee.

"We have adopted the position that an embryo has a special status as a potential human being, but its status is not the same as a child or adult--this is in line with most religious beliefs."

Dr. Colman would like to create improved embryonic cell lines from IVF surplus embryos. "Currently, our cell lines are cultured with mouse feeder cells that are needed to provide nutrients, and that isn't optimal," said Dr. Colman. His team plans to develop cell lines that use human feeder cells.

© 2002 Reuters Ltd