By Ann Marie Foley - 04 November, 2014
Last week, a conference in NUI Galway heard calls for increaed scientific research into embryonic stem cells.
However, Caroline Simons of the Pro Life Campaign responded, “For years now, those who push embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) have been trying to convince the public of the potential to cure a number of diseases but the reality is that ESCR has produced virtually no scientific or medical breakthroughs.”
She said that an alternative is adult stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, which present no ethical dilemmas for scientists, and continue to produce “astounding clinical results.”
She gave the example of a 40-year-old paralysed man from Poland who can walk again with the aid of a frame after breakthrough surgery transplanted cells from his nose into his spinal cord, which had been severed.
Caroline Simons pointed out that adult stem cell science presents the best possible outcome in that it does not involve the destruction of human life and it is repeatedly demonstrating its worth in medical and scientific terms.
“Focusing on embryonic stem cell research distracts from the successes of adult stems cell research that is producing tangible results. The Government and our universities should be committed to promoting ethical research that deliver results for patients. That’s a win-win solution,” she concluded.
At the Galway conference, Professor Barry, the Scientific Director of REMEDI, the Regenerative Medicine Institute at NUI Galway, said that while Ireland is at the front of research in adult stem cell projects and can compete internationally, it has made “little contribution” to the area of embryonic stem cell research, the Irish Independent reported.
He said that despite the ethical concerns such research could give rise to important treatments and should be developed in Ireland.
Pat Buckley of the European Life Network stated that it was a pity that the conference was “marred” by calls for embryonic stem cell research which “ignores the fact that human embryos must be killed for such research to be carried out”.
He quoted Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who in his address at a Pontifical Academy for Life conference in 2011 stated that “… those who advocate research on embryonic stem cells in the hope of achieving such a result make the grave mistake of denying the inalienable right to life of all human beings from the moment of conception to natural death. The destruction of even one human life can never be justified in terms of the benefit that it might conceivably bring to another.”
The Irish conference, held in the Bailey Allen Hall in NUI Galway on the 29 – 30 October, had contributions from international experts in stem cell science.
One focus was Mesenchymal Stem Cell (MSC) research in Ireland, the UK and worldwide.
Professor Barry said that clinical trials will commence next year on MSC projects which include treatment of peripheral arterial disease and osteoarthritis. This will be followed in 2016 by trials in treatments for corneal transplants and diabetic ulcers.
The professor explained that clinical trials in Galway in 2015 will take stem cells from either bone marrow or fat tissue to treat osteoarthritis in the knee. These are part of an international trial involving 150 patients in 10 different sites around Europe.
The first Irish licence to manufacture stem cells for clinical trials was granted in January (2014) to the Centre for Cell Manufacturing Ireland at NUIG.
The custom-built facility takes small samples of bone marrow from adult donors and cultures them in a specially designed laboratory to make billions of stem cells.
The centre works with the Regenerative Medicine Institute at the university which since 2004 has been working to develop therapies to help with various illnesses.