Rules and Recession Threaten Research into Brain Diseases; Issues Surrounding Stem Cell Research to Be Discussed at the Senedd in Cardiff Tomorrow

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 18, 2009 | Go to article overview

Rules and Recession Threaten Research into Brain Diseases; Issues Surrounding Stem Cell Research to Be Discussed at the Senedd in Cardiff Tomorrow


Byline: Madeleine Brindley

THE recession and increasing regulation is threatening the future of pioneering research into common brain diseases.

Leading Welsh scientists have warned that there is "significant uncertainty" about the future of research into such conditions as Huntington's and Parkinson's.

Assembly Members will tomorrow hear that the credit crunch has meant there is no money for small businesses to invest in stem cell research.

And with no venture capital, prospects for developing research into large-scale clinical trials are also under threat.

The problems have been exacerbated by President Barack Obama's decision to lift the ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research in the US.

If more funding becomes available across the Atlantic, Wales and the UK could face a brain drain and lose their place as a world leader in the field.

The issues surrounding stem cell research, including increasing regulation, will be discussed at the Senedd tomorrow at an event organised by the Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics (Cesagen), a social science research centre based at Cardiff University.

Stem cells are the "master" cells of the body that can be programmed to become other types of cell.

They can be found in the human body, but stem cells from the tissue of embryos are considered to be the most useful because they are able to develop into any type of cell.

Research on embryonic stem cells remains controversial, but scientists believe they have the potential to treat some of the world's most intractable diseases by repairing and replacing damaged cells.

The stem cell research sector has recently been subject to stringent new regulation by the European Union, which sets new standards for the sterility and storage of human tissue and cells.

As a result of the 2004 directive a major Huntington's disease trial, which started in 2000 and is run from Cardiff University School of Biosciences, had to be put on hold.

After more than four years delay, Professor Steve Dunnett, who is leading the research, hopes they will be able to resume cell preparation in newly-refurbished labs later this year.

He said the delay has been "incredibly frustrating", but added: "The regulations are about applying pharmaceutical practice standards to every pilot study undertaken in medical schools.

"It's partly about safety but much more to do with audit and responsibility." He and his team in the Brain Repair Group - a 30-strong team of biomedical and clinical scientists - are working towards developing a treatment to repair the damage caused by major diseases of the brain.

In addition to the European directive, stem cell research is also regulated by a number of UK bodies.

Dr Neil Stephens of Cesagen said this framework, made up of four large bodies including the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, has created barriers to furthering stem cell research. …

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