“The current qualifying date rule, in particular, strongly impedes German stem cell research,” explained DFG Vice President Professor Jörg Hinrich Hacker, while participating in a live chat session on the DFG website. “The best thing for basic research would be if this qualifying date rule, a deadline which restricts the period in which embryonic stem cell lines are allowed to be imported, were to be abolished altogether, as the DFG recommended in a statement on stem cell research it released 18 months ago,” he emphasised. Hacker recently also became President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin.
From the point of view of molecular biologists, even moving the deadline would be an improvement compared to the current situation. Hacker also called for an end to the “criminalisation of German researchers.” The current legislation leaves the legal situation of German researchers involved in cooperative projects with stem cell researchers abroad unclear. “This deters young researchers, in particular, from becoming involved in stem cell research.” The DFG is also of the opinion, said Hacker, that stem cell lines should also be used for diagnostic, therapeutic and preventative purposes.
Other topics touched upon during the one-hour live chat session, during which Hacker responded to 27 questions, were the prospects for research on adult stem cells. This, Hacker emphasised, is not viewed by the DFG as standing in contrast to research on embryonic stem cells, but as a logical extension. The recent scientific findings on “induced pluripotent stem cells” were also addressed, a topic which Hacker described as a major breakthrough for molecular biology. He also pointed out, however, that research on human embryonic stem cell lines is indispensable in order to be able to estimate and compare the potential for adult or reprogrammed cells. “Embryonic stem cell lines are more or less the gold standard for studies of this kind.”
Hacker also took a stand on the issue of ovum donation, which is permitted in some countries. This practice is rejected by the DFG and has nothing to do with the production of embryonic stem cell lines. The debate in Germany is essentially about importing cell lines that have been produced abroad and have already been used for research purposes. Culturing new stem cell lines in Germany is already prohibited by the Embryo Protection Law. The DFG has repeatedly spoken out in favour of keeping the Embryo Protection Law in its current form. In answer to another question, Hacker pointed out that any stem cell lines imported from other countries are also subject to strict assessment. They are required to have originated from embryos that were produced for use in reproductive medicine, but for any one of a number of reasons can no longer be used for that purpose. “Here again, no money is allowed to change hands and the couple from whom the cell line originates need to have given their express permission,” Hacker added.
On the question of potential therapeutic uses, another topic addressed during the DFG live chat, Hacker said that “as a general rule of thumb, it takes about ten to fifteen years for a new form of therapy to be developed in biomedicine. If we assume that the first human embryonic stem cell lines were produced ten years ago, then we are now looking at new therapies becoming available in the medium to long term.” He also pointed out, however, that the findings being made in research involving embryonic stem cell lines were also contributing to basic research as well as research aimed at developing new forms of therapy. “Without basic research there is no way we can develop new forms of therapy,” he emphasised.
Jutta Hoehn | alfa
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