Academy of Sciences expresses support for embryonic stem cell research


Stem cells have the ability to become many kinds of tissue, and scientists believe stem cell research holds a great promise for treating a range of diseases in the future. Both ethical and legal debate is being held in many countries, especially over the research of stem cells harvested from human embryos.

Keith Campbell,  photo: CTK
An international conference on assisted reproduction and therapeutic as well as reproductive cloning took place in Prague last week. Among the distinguished guests was the British scientist Keith Campbell, a member of the team that cloned Dolly the sheep.

"At the present time I'm still working on cloning in animal species as a way of understanding the events which occur in early embryogenesis and the events which occur in cloned embryos. Using that information and some other system we have we are trying to develop new systems to produce stem cells which are personally matched to individuals, which is what therapeutic cloning is for, without the requirement for the production of embryos. Our future aim is to be able to produce stem cell populations from differentiated cells (skin cells, for instance) for individuals without going through the cloning procedure."

Last month, the other creator of Dolly the sheep, Professor Ian Wilmut, was granted a licence to clone human embryos for medical research by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. What is the legal environment for this kind of research in the Czech Republic? That's a question I put to Professor Eva Sykova, the head of the Institute of Experimental Medicine of the Czech Academy of Sciences and one of the leading personalities in Czech stem-cell research.

"There is a law which is prepared for parliament now, which allows the work with embryonic lines so we would be able to create lines from embryos which are leftovers from in-vitro fertilisation. Under this law it is not allowed to do therapeutic or reproductive cloning."

Two weeks after Professor Ian Wilmut was granted his licence in the UK, the Czech Academy of Sciences issued a statement in support of research of embryonic stem cells, the most flexible type of stem cells.

"The scientists in our institute wanted the academy to release some statement to support such research because it is important that institutions like the academy show that it supports the research on embryonic cells. Of course, the research is supported by grant agencies but the view of the academy that embryonic stem cells can be used for research is very important for our institutions."

In its statement the Czech Academy of Sciences also called for a speedy implementation of legislation that would regulate stem cell research in the Czech Republic in line with European Union law.