Decree enables French scientists to derive their own stem cell lines from human embryos
By Clementine Wallace | February 23, 2006
Earlier this month, France passed a decree specifying the conditions under which researchers will be able to work on stem cell lines derived domestically from unused embryos from in vitro fertilization, a decision French scientists say they hope will enable France to catch up on some other countries in stem cell research.
"It's been a year and a half that we've been waiting for this ?and we've been pushing hard," Marc Peschanski from the National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) told The Scientist. "Now we can start working seriously and stop feeling like we are constantly on the fringe of illegality."
The French government has banned any sort of human cloning. Bioethics laws established in August, 2004 authorized human embryonic stem cell research, but only under certain constraints. While the government debated the nature of those constraints, researchers could only use stem cell lines imported from abroad.
The delay in establishing the constraints on stem cell research ?created a certain handicap for researchers,? Hervé Chneiweiss, from the Collège de France, in Paris, told The Scientist.
Now, 18 months later, the government has announced the conditions under which scientists can conduct this research. During the next five years -- dubbed an experimental period by officials -- researchers can use embryos from consenting couples undergoing in vitro fertilization if the couples do not plan to use them, or if the embryos have been diagnosed with a disease or malformation.
Carine Camby, director of the Agence de Biomédecine -- the governmental organization that will oversee research projects -- told The Scientist that couples cannot create embryos for the sole purpose of donating them to research. ?Of course there is always a debate, some researchers consider this should be allowed, that 5 years is not enough ? there is not a consensus among the scientific community,? Camby said. ?Some are also pushing for therapeutic cloning to be authorized,? she added. According to Peschanski, the government recently designated a congressman to ?explore? the question of therapeutic cloning.
Researchers who want to conduct stem cell research must submit project proposals to the Agence de Biomédicine. The agency intends to limit the number of authorizations every year, in order to control the process and avoid abuses, according to Camby.
Peschanski said his group plans to apply to conduct his research, and hopes he will receive the green light to set up a bank of stem cell lines containing disease-causing monogenic mutations. The goal is to derive such lines systematically, making them available to geneticists working on various diseases. "Until now we could collaborate with foreign laboratories that have a few specific mutated cell lines, in the UK, in Brussels, or in Israel for example, but these teams don't necessarily derive their lines for the same research purposes than ours," he said.
Others say researchers are anxious to derive human ES cell lines from tissue cultures free of any animal products, which could be used for cellular therapy. "Several foreign teams have started looking into this, and some have already been successful," said Chneiweiss. "Many French researchers are waiting to start working on this too."
Overall, the passage of the application decree can only be positive for the country's aim to revive its research system, according to Peschanski. While barriers remain in areas such as that of therapeutic cloning, the country is now more attractive to private investors, he said. "France used to be on the unattractive side, but now it's part of the top 15 countries where human embryonic ES research is not banned, so maybe investments will pick up."
Links within this article:
Government announcement of the application decree, February 7, 2006
J. Burgermeister, ?France to OK therapeutic cloning?? The Scientist, July 13, 2005.
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