Stem cell experts drop call to end 14-day rule
As expected, the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR) has updated its guidelines for stem cell research. The marquee guideline is to relax the 14-day limit on how long a human embryo can be kept alive in a laboratory.
According to the ISSCR, the update reflects emerging advancements, including stem cell-based embryo models, human embryo research, chimeras, organoids, genome editing and ectogenesis.
Although these recommendations do not have the force of law, they are very influential and pressure will mount in key countries like the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia to modify or abolish the 14 day rule. Bioethicists have called for a review in a number of journals over the past few years.
Until recently, the 14-day rule was impossible to break because embryos could not be kept alive for more than 11 or 12 days. But recently, two separate research teams in China announced that they had cultured primate embryos in vitro for 20 days, opening up exciting new perspectives for stem cell scientists.
The update is the result of a two-year collaboration with 45 international experts in stem cell science, ethics and law, and has been reviewed by scientists and ethicists from 14 countries. They have organized over 100 Zoom meetings.
“The 2021 update presents practical guidance for overseeing research posing unique scientific and ethical issues for researchers and the public,” says Robin Lovell-Badge, a prominent UK stem cell researcher. “They provide reassurance to researchers, clinicians and the public that stem cell science can proceed in a responsible, ethical manner and remain responsive to the interests of the public and patients.”
Strictly speaking, the ISSRC does not have the power to change the rules. But is he recommending scientists persuade people that his controversial research is necessary, safe and ethical?
But the ISSCR’s announcement was quickly criticized (and not just by religious groups, as Lovell-Badge’s explanatory article in Nature suggested).
Long-time ISSRC member stem cell blogger Paul Knoepfler argues that an open guideline makes no sense. “For me, a new 21-day rule would make the most sense for a few years to see how the work goes and learn from the experiences with the somewhat later embryos. Then revisit the limit. “
Canadian feminist bioethicist Françoise Baylis wrote in The Conversation that:
The decision to abandon the established 14-day rule is a mistake. There are good reasons to recommend public debate and debate on the merits of this rule. There is, however, no legitimate reason for this discussion to focus narrowly on extending the search period. For example, an equally legitimate public conversation could take place on the shortening instead of extending the allowed research period.
More importantly, there is no legitimate reason to have removed the 14-day rule before any public engagement that might endorse the existing limit or advocate for an alternative policy. This changes the facts on paper and potentially also in practice.
Two Republican members of the US Congress, Representative Chris Smith of New Jersey and Senator Mike Braun of Indiana were scathing.
“The ISSRC has shown a total disregard for the value and dignity of human life,” said Representative Smith. “Its previous rule allowing scientists to create and experiment on human embryos for up to 14 days was already unethical and morally repugnant, but the ISSRC has now removed all restrictions, allowing unborn humans at all. stage of development to be experienced, manipulated and destroyed. . “
Michael cook is editor-in-chief of BioEdge