Policies stymie stem cell progress

A new study confirms a seemingly obvious assumption about human embryonic stem cell research: Countries with fewer restrictions on research outperform countries with more restrictions. But the picture may be more complex than that, according to some experts. The article, published linkurl:online;http://www.cellstemcell.com/content/article/abstract?uid=PIIS1934590908002221 today (June 4) in Cell Stem Cell by linkurl:Aaron Levine;http://www.aarondlevine.net/ at the Georgia Institute of Technology

By | June 4, 2008

A new study confirms a seemingly obvious assumption about human embryonic stem cell research: Countries with fewer restrictions on research outperform countries with more restrictions. But the picture may be more complex than that, according to some experts. The article, published linkurl:online;http://www.cellstemcell.com/content/article/abstract?uid=PIIS1934590908002221 today (June 4) in Cell Stem Cell by linkurl:Aaron Levine;http://www.aarondlevine.net/ at the Georgia Institute of Technology, devised a metric to gauge the output of human embryonic stem cell (HESC) publications of 16 countries. Levine compared the number of HESC publications in each country with the number of RNAi publications -- for the study, RNAi publications acted as a type of control, representing an equally clinically relevant area of research, without the same controversy or discrepancies in policy as HESC research. Not surprisingly, "overperforming" countries including China, the United Kingdom, Israel, and Singapore, have historically permissive policies regarding HESC research, especially regarding the derivation of new stem cell lines. "Underperforming" countries, on the other hand, had more associated policy restrictions. But the study may not take into account other factors relating to HESC research beyond publication records, according to some experts. "Publications are one measure of performance focusing purely on the science," linkurl:Brian Salter,;http://www.kcl.ac.uk/schools/sspp/interdisciplinary/cbas/staff/acad/bs.html professor of politics and biomedicine at King's College London, told The Scientist in an Email. The study overlooked the role of other regulatory issues, he added, such as regulation of clinical experimentation and patenting, for example. It also does not take into account the hierarchy of journals and journal impact factors. "Underperforming countries may have scientists who go for the higher status journals." linkurl:Lori Knowles,;http://www.law.ualberta.ca/centres/hli/profiles/profile_knowles.html research fellow at the University of Alberta, told The Scientist that she would have liked to see a longer version of the article covering some of the other factors that might play into publication rates in various countries. Even adding factors such as citation rates and patents may not be enough, she added, noting that number of researchers per country or an explanation what different elements of HESC research that qualify (deriving new cell lines or cell reprogramming) are not included in the paper. "Measures like that in and of themselves are not completely [comprehensive]. So I felt that [Levine] might have something interesting in here, though I'm not sure that he's really convinced me that what he says lines up with the results he says he has."

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