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    Stem cell forum launched

    Stem cell forum launchedTwelve nations sign up for project designed to speed up research | By Pat Hagan
    July 17,2003

    Scientists from 12 countries have officially launched a new organization designed to promote collaboration on stem cell research and to speed up the development of new medical treatments.

    Called the International Stem Cell Forum, the new body was sanctioned at a meeting chaired by the UK's Medical Research Council (MRC) in London on July 11. The launch comes just 6 months after the MRC announced it was setting up an informal discussion forum to tackle stem cell research on a global rather than national basis.

    The main aim is to produce international scientific benchmarks on the characteristics of new and existing stem cell lines. This will be achieved by inviting researchers from major institutions in each of the member countries to examine cell lines, using standardized tools and procedures.

    Apart from the UK representatives, signatories include 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. The other states involved in the collaboration are Germany, France, Japan, Finland, Singapore, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

    A new registry of stem cell lines, which will be made available on a dedicated Web site, is being developed under the leadership of Peter Andrews from the Centre for Stem Cell Biology at the University of Sheffield.

    One of the underlying concerns has been that in the race to explore new applications for stem cell technology, teams of scientists around the world could end up working to different criteria or duplicating one another's efforts.

    The idea behind the forum is to reduce this as much as possible and to speed up research by sharing information. The United Kingdom will take charge of the drive to characterize cell lines, and representatives from Australia and Canada have agreed to explore ethical and patenting issues.

    MRC Chief Executive George Radda said in a press statement: "International coordination will accelerate progress in this cutting-edge area of research, maximizing health benefits for the global public."

    James Battey from the US National Institutes of Health said he hoped the initiative would allow US scientists to "harmonize" their research efforts with those elsewhere.

    He told The Scientist, "A standardized approach to characterizing human embryonic stem cell lines throughout the international research community will reveal similarities and differences between the properties and potential of lines established at different times under different experimental protocols. Such an effort will undoubtedly accelerate the pace of discovery."

    According to Andrews, a "task force" of four or five representatives has been formed to establish a program of work for the forum for the next year.

    "We'll do it in bite-sized chunks because it's such a huge project," he told The Scientist. "It's a question of working on the key parts, such as how to characterize cell lines, how to stop them doing things you don't want them to do, and how to get them to differentiate into cells that you want.

    "There is a huge amount of promise in stem cell research but also a huge amount of hype, so we have to be careful what we tell people. It could take 15 to 20 years, but there's a good chance we could produce therapies that are really revolutionary for diseases that cripple a lot of people," said Andrews.

    Links for this article
    Medical Research Council

    T. Agres, "Coming clean on stem cells," The Scientist, January 21, 2003.

    P. Hagan, "Stem cell collaboration," The Scientist, June 2, 2003.

    National Institutes of Health

    National Health and Medical Research Council

    Canadian Institutes of Health Research

    Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities

    Peter Andrews

    Centre for Stem Cell Biology

    A. Scott, "Guidelines for EU funding of stem cell research," The Scientist, July 10, 2003.

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