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Stem cell collaboration

International stem cell researchers discuss ways to cooperate rather than compete

June 2, 2003
By Pat Hagan
The Scientist

Scientists from countries at the forefront of stem cell research have been discussing ways to pool resources and share information in a bid to speed up the development of new medical applications.

Leading researchers and representatives of major funding organizations from about 12 different countries gathered in London on Friday, May 30 for a meeting convened by the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC).

It was the second time the international group had met since the MRC announced in January that it was setting up an informal discussion forum to tackle stem cell research on a global rather than national basis.

Delegates agreed that a major priority in the next few months must be the establishment of a Web site through which researchers can share information on a range of issues, from techniques used for stem cell characterization to the ethical and regulatory issues faced within individual countries.

"There is a huge amount of enthusiasm for this to be done on a global scale," MRC Chief Executive George Radda told The Scientist after the meeting. "The scientists themselves feel this is very important, otherwise things are going to move very slowly."

Interest in stem cell research has been become so strong that concerns have grown that it could become fragmented and uncoordinated without some kind of international effort to pool expertise. The potential for duplication of work, or the use of flawed techniques, has brought all the major interested parties together.

The informal group includes representatives from the MRC, the US National Institutes of Health, the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. Finland, Singapore, and Sweden are among the other countries represented.

"There's an awful lot going on in each of these countries, and the key is to get coordination going at an early stage," said Radda. "We have to look at the practical aspects of how to do this work and compare different groups with each other. Hopefully, it may eventually lead to an international standard."

Cell characterization is a high priority for the group. It's hoped that sharing information on the identification of stem cells will help researchers clarify whether they are working on the same cell lines as other groups and will ensure that there is a degree of quality control involved. "You need markers that tell you this is the same line that someone else has derived and has the same properties," said Radda.

The potential benefits are clearly greater for some countries than others. The United Kingdom, which is setting up a stem cell bank, is likely to be one of the most well resourced countries in the group, whereas the United States, which currently has restrictions on what stem cell lines researchers can use, could potentially gain a great deal by having free and speedy access to other work from around the world.

Radda said he hopes the Web site will be up and running by the end of July, when the group is next scheduled to meet. But the idea is to run practical information, rather than the results of research not yet published in peer-reviewed journals.

Copyright © 2003, The Scientist Inc.