TÜBA calls for easing laws on stem cell research

August 26, 2010, Thursday/ 16:37:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN
The Turkey Academy of Sciences (TÜBA) has called on the government to ease restrictions on stem cell research in Turkey but also warned against individuals who might give false hope to patients in advanced stages of particular diseases.

TÜBA released a report yesterday prepared by its Stem Cell Work Group, made up of 13 professors renowned for their contributions to stem cell research in Turkey. The report called for the removal of restrictions on embryonic stem cell research in laboratories.

It emphasized that stem cell treatments currently remain an experimental field, adding that there is no concrete scientific data definitively proving the effectiveness of stem cell treatments against any diseases. The report noted, “Stem cell treatments are not yet a treatment option.”

It also said there is not enough research on human embryonic stem cells, stressing that these cells are still in the phase of experimental research due to risks, such as their potential to cause cancer. However, the report said that they have observed that a market has emerged for “stem cell treatments” that have not been scientifically tested. The report explained: “This has reached such an extent that some patients travel to different countries to receive stem cell treatments that have not been scientifically proven, making huge financial payments. ... The restrictions on embryonic stem cell research in laboratories have to be removed. The formation and development of ... [centers] where comprehensive stem cell research can be conducted should be supported [by the government].”

There have been a number of demonstrations in support of the “right to stem cell treatment” in Turkey recently. Earlier this month, relatives of patients with spinal muscular atrophy protested in front of the Health Ministry, calling for the removal of barriers to stem cell research.

Embryonic stem cell research remains controversial in a number of countries. Embryonic stem cells come from days-old embryos and can produce any type of cell in the body.

Scientists hope to be able to use them to address spinal cord injuries, cancer, diabetes and diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Opponents of human embryonic stem cell research say it is wrong, usually for religious reasons, to damage or destroy a human embryo.

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