Are Germany and Italy standing in the way of progress in European stem cell research?


A report published last week from the European Science federation (ESF) has given 27 different countries one of four possible statuses based on the permissiveness of their stem cell policies. With the possibility of being deemed either very permissive with regards to human Embryonic Stem Cells, permissive with restrictions, restrictive by default, or very restrictive, the authors of the paper, Professor Stigordahl and Mr Martain Haynes, suggest that those countries with restrictive agendas could well stifle Europe’s ability to retain its key role in the stem cell industry.

Very Permissive (Allows research with hESCs derivation from multiple sources)
Belgium, Sweden, United Kingdom

Permissive with restrictions (Allows research with hESCs derived soely from surplus IVF embryos and embryos created for research)
Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland

Restrictive by Default (Legislation prevents any hESC research)
Romania, Turkey

Very Restrictive (Legislation explicitly prohibits hESC research)
Croatia, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Slovakia

Unlegislated (No specific legislation concerning hSC research)
Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland

So what does this mean? The report notes that stem cell research projects in Europe tend to be co-ordinated by multiple researchers across multiple countries. The report also notes that, of the 25 research projects currently taking place utilising Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs), Germany and Italy are conducting the largest number of experiments, second only to Spain.

Slordahl and Haynes suggestion seems to be that a lack of coherence in stem cell policies across the EU, combined with the fact that two of the countries doing the most research with stem cells have prohibited use of hESCs, will inhibit research and any potential future success.

The concern is that funding may stall as restrictions by different governments interfere and disrupt the international collaborative research practices that have produced promising results within the field to date.

In addition to this, the report considers the EU legislation which prohibits any mechanism by which human embryos can be used for “industrial or commercial purposes” from being patented. Such pan-European restrictions could result in diminished financial support for hESC research projects due to more convoluted financial returns dependant on developing technology off the back of hESC research.

Are the likes of Germany, Italy and other restrictive nations really standing in the way of progress? Whilst the authors are content with simply summing up the current state of policy and research across the EU, they seemingly imply that research options using non-pluripotent stem cells, or even protein-induced pluripotent stem cells (piPSCs), cannot offer the same rate and scope for success in European stem cell research.

But perhaps, were restrictions on hESC to cause disruption in future research, this would push researchers to address the safety concerns associated with piPSCs. And whilst this route may ultimately be slower to achieve success, it would at least avoid the ethical dilemma currently at the forefront of the stem cells industry across the globe.

Interpretations aside, the authors main conclusion is clear: the EU and European nations should continue to promote and fund research into stem cells in order to maintain Europe’s key position in the global sector.

Do you think European stem cell research is likely to stall in the future? Will more European governments adopt a less restrictive policy on hESC creation and utilisation? Why not join us on LinkedIn to continue the debate.

Find the paper in its entirety here.


Interested in Stem Cell research and regenerative measurement? then why not check out World Stem Cells: Regenerative Medicine Congress 2014.