Galway stem cell centre receives cautious welcome

A leading biotechnologist in Ireland has offered a cautious welcome for the newly opened stem cell manufacturing centre at NUI Galway.

Responding to news that the Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland (CCMI) had received its approval from the Irish Medicines Board to commence production of adult stem cells for research purposes, Professor Martin Clynes of Dublin City University told The Irish Catholic that provided best ethical practices around adult stem cells are adhered to “I do not see any reason for Christians, including Catholics, to have any problems” with the CCMI’s work.

Such ethical questions, Prof. Clynes explained, include the sourcing of cells, “obtained following fully informed and unpressurised consent from donors” and, in relation to clinical trials, “approval by the Ethics Committees in the hospitals where the trial would take place”.

Acknowledging that “any reputable hospital or university research institute” would adhere to ethical practices, Prof. Clynes nevertheless voiced concerns around the potential of private clinics to breach best practice.

“Because of the legislative vacuum in Ireland, private clinics could be established which might not adhere,” he pointed out.

Such a risk has implications in the area of embryonic stem cells, despite the fact that, as Prof Clynes said “no clinical benefit has been demonstrated for any disease using human embryonic stem cells”.

“Some scientists still argue that [embryonic stem cells] are essential for biomedical research,” Prof. Clynes said. “But recently it has become possible to make adult cells go backwards in development and behave very much like embryonic stem cells – without hurting any embryos. These induced pluripotent stem cells can do almost anything that the embryonic stem cells can. But some scientists still argue that the iPSCs aren't fully identical to ES cells, that they haven't gone quite as far back, that they hold some molecular memories of their adult experience. To me, these are weak, somewhat hypothetical arguments when compared to the clear evil of destroying embryos.”