In its 9 April 2011 submission to the Legislation Review of Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act 2002 and Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002, the Australian Academy of Science has again advocated that the existing laws have served Australia well and do not need revision.
The Academy believes that current research, particularly in relation to clinical use of stem cells to treat human disease, continues to require the ability to produce and to experiment on human embryonic stem (ES) cells as well as other types of human stem cells, as provided for in the Acts. Since last amended in 2006, a number of licenses to create human ES cell lines have been issued in Australia, and global clinical trials with ES cells have commenced (e.g. for spinal injuries and for eye diseases), as have trials with adult stem cells. There is continuing extensive research and development in the stem cell field but it is not yet clear which type of stem cell will be most useful for each area of clinical practice. The Academy urged the review committee to extend the provisions of the existing Acts without change.
The Australian Academy of Science strongly urged Members of the House of Representatives to support the passage of the Patterson Bill, Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. For more information on the Academy’s involvement in the lead up to this decision, please see below.
Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National, hosted a discussion on stem cells. Her guests were Professor Perry Bartlett FAA, Professor Bernie Tuch and Professor Bob Williamson FAA.
Academy representatives were:
The Australian Academy of Science supports the recommendations of the Lockhart Committee.
There have been many major contributions to stem cell research (both embryonic and adult stem cells) during the period since 2002, that have altered our perception of the value of embryonic and adult stem cells, and also the value of somatic cell nuclear transfer. There have also been legislative changes in other countries that are relevant to the Acts.
In the view of the Academy, recommendations that raise no substantial issues should be accepted, and debate should focus upon the issues on which there are serious differences of opinion.
The Annual General Meeting of the Australian Academy of Science held a one-day Symposium with national and international presentations on embryo, newborn and adult stem cell science.
The Symposium addressed the progress that has been made in this field since the Academy’s report of 2001. The proceedings are available on the Academy web site, to inform national debate and policy on this subject.
Address to the National Press Club by Professor John Shine, Secretary, Biological Sciences, Australian Academy of Science and Executive Director of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney.
The focus of current research in human stem cells is on human embryonic stem (ES) cells, which have the potential to develop into any mature adult cell, and on scattered adult stem cells which occur in some, but not all, adult tissues. There is some objection to the use of human ES cells in research because the cells are derived from a one-week old human embryo when it is a microscopic hollow mass of about 200 cells.
In theory, it should be possible to reprogram almost any adult DNA to begin earlier paths of differentiation, thus making it unnecessary to use ES cells for research into cell therapies. In practice, our knowledge of many cellular and developmental processes is imperfect. Adult stem cells cannot adequately substitute for ES cells in basic research concerned with developmental biology because important biological differences exist between embryonic and adult stem cells. However, research into adult stem cells should be encouraged, especially to permit rapid application of insights gained from study of ES cells, and because progress made in this area of research may inform the other.
The Academy of Science continues to promote public discussion on human stem cell research. The Academy restates its position of opposition to cloning 'whole human being' on the basis of safety and general ethical concerns. The recent developments in stem cell research show the scientific and ultimately therapeutic importance of undertaking basic research in cellular and developmental biology prior to clinical application of that research.
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