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Gaps and overlaps: improving the current regulation of stem cells in the UK

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A failure to provide a comprehensive and cohesive regulatory system to govern stem cell research and application will hinder the development of treatments for serious diseases and undermine the UK’s attempts to become a global leader in this field

Stem cells are the source cells in the human body from which all other cells develop and have the remarkable ability to heal damaged tissue and to grow new tissue and, potentially, organs. In the UK, researchers are striving to harness these capacities to develop stem cell therapies for conditions such as macular degeneration, liver disease, infertility, spinal cord injury, Parkinson disease, diabetes and many more. The government is keen to ensure the UK’s global pre-eminence in this area, and in May 2004, £16.5 million of public sector funding was allocated to stem cell research.1 In 2005, the UK Stem Cell Initiative (UKSCI) was established to develop a 10-year research and development strategy for 2006 to 2016, aiming to ensure that the UK is “the most scientifically and commercially productive location for this activity over the coming decade, and which commands the support of public and private research funders, practitioners and commercial partners”.2 The UKSCI has recommended that the government should provide increased funding of £11 million to £74 million a year over the 10 years to 2016 and set up public/private partnerships to coordinate and develop stem cell research and technology.2

To match the pace of scientific progress in stem cell research,3 4 it is critical that UK law is clear, consistent and capable of application by those working in the field, from the moment of obtaining tissues from which stem cells will be derived to their use in clinical applications. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. A plethora of legislation and other guidance, both …

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