Canadian charter seeks support for stem cell medicine

24 September 2009

The Canadian Stem Cell Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the role of stem cell science in health, has launched a Stem Cell Charter. The purpose of the Charter (slogan: a stem cell can renew the world) is to attract signatories to affirm their support of research into stem cell medicine. It is hoped that one day stem cell therapeutics could offer cures for serious diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and for spinal cord injuries that cause forms of paralysis.

The Charter was created in collaboration with a working group of scientists, patients, ethicists and public representatives. It sets out five principles for the advancement of stem cell science: responsible science, protection of citizens, intellectual freedom, transparency, and integrity.

Canadian Stem Cell Foundation President and CEO James Price commented that everyone had a vested interest in developing stem cell medicine, saying of the Charter: “It's something that everyone, whether they are doctors, scientists, policy makers or the general public, can get behind. It unifies us in support of this vital area of research" (see Medical News Today article).

This effort to boost public support for this area of research may be considered a necessary counter to concerns about the ethics of those areas of stem cell research that use or stem cell lines derived originally from embryos, although there are prospects for producing therapeutic stem cells without the use of embryonic material (see previous news). At the same time, public expectations of stem cell medicine are often very high, with frustration that the marvellous cures promised by scientists have yet to materialise in the clinic, and an expanding market for unproven treatments (see previous news).

Comment: The website introduction features a video of scientists saying that “right now there’s a way to cure disease…generate organs…prevent heart attacks…let bodies heal themselves…it’s called a stem cell, and it can do all that…not in a hundred years, or in fifty…but in ten”. Will these assertions be borne out? Hopefully there will indeed be some effective therapeutics in this projected timescale, but it is unlikely that the science can deliver on all these ambitious promises in so short a time. Researchers must walk a tightrope between convincing potential funders and those who influence them of the potential importance of this area of research for medicine, and over-hyping the short-term benefits.

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