The National Academy of Sciences is organizing a new committee to periodically update voluntary guidelines it issued last year (http://nap.edu/catalog/11278.html?onpi_newsdoc02162006) on human embryonic stem cell research. A call by several scientific organizations and individual scientists prompted the decision, according to Bill Kearney, spokesperson for the Academy. The committee, under the auspices of the organization's National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, will be supported by private funds from the Ellison Medical Foundation, the Greenwall Foundation, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
"The Academy agreed that there would be a need to update [the guidelines] as the science advanced ... and to reflect evolving public opinion about embryonic stem cell research," says Kearney. It has yet to be decided how frequently the guidelines will be reviewed for updating.
By frequently keeping guidelines current, professional societies such as the Academy are playing a critical role in directing the conduct of stem cell research, says Ruth Faden, executive director of The Phoebe R. Berman Bioethics Institute at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Hinxton Group that recently issued recommendations about international guidelines for stem cell research. Some research organizations as well as other states are already either using the guidelines as the basis for their own regulations or adopting them outright. Additionally, Faden says she hopes that "our National Academy will connect with those around the world to reach consensus" on such guidelines, particularly given the difficulty in aligning the global disparity in laws regulating this research.