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National stem-cell panel, including UW profs, urges close watch on research

Research institutions should create oversight committees to guide human embryonic stem-cell studies according to common guidelines, a panel of experts, including two University of Wisconsin-Madison professors, said on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

"In the absence of federal guidelines broadly governing the generation and research use of human embryonic stem cells, the scientific community and its institutions should step forward to develop and implement its own," their report said.

UW-Madison's Robin Alta Charo, a professor of law, and Norman Fost, a professor of pediatrics, served on the panel. Both also advised James Thomson, the UW-Madison scientist who established the first usable human embryonic stem cell cultures in 1998.

The panel recommended that Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight committees should be established at research institutions to make decisions about the ethical use of stem cells and, especially, their creation.

Human embryonic stem cells are created from otherwise unused embryos, typically three to five days old, at in-vitro fertilization clinics. At that stage of development they are called "blastocysts" and have not yet been implanted into a uterus.
The panel said human embryos should not be grown in the lab for more than 14 days, at which time the central nervous system first starts to develop.

Its report also emphasized that oversight committees should look carefully for conflicts of interest and should not pay women for donations of cells.

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