Why do we support adult stem cell research instead of embryonic stem cell research?

Seventh Research Framework Program – Why do we support adult stem cell research instead of embryonic stem cell research?

The question of stem cells is currently the dominant subject in the debate over biotechnology and human genetics. We, the members of the World Youth Alliance-Europe, are very concerned about the 7th Research Framework programme decision, which will be voted on the plenary session in the European Parliament on 14 June 2006. The most important issue to us is the funding of the controversial embryonic stem cell research or other more successful promising researches like adult stem cell research from the EU budget. The question is whether we should use embryonic stem cells or adult stem cells for future medical therapies.

This article addresses these questions and provides some principal answers. Basically, during the embryonic stem cell research embryonic stem cells are taken from a developing embryo destroying the embryo, a developing human life. Adult stem cells, on the other hand, are found in all tissues of the growing human being and, according to latest reports, also have the potential to transform themselves into practically all other cell types, or revert to being stem cells with greater reproductive capacity. The use of embryonic stem (ES) cells is frequently argued as the best way forward for cures and treatments for many of the listed disorders. However, in the fifth year since human cloning to generate embryonic stem cells was legalised in the UK, little progress has been made towards taking embryo stem-cell therapy from laboratory to clinical practice. Because of the technical difficulties, biological hazards (such as cancers and tumours) and the need for large quantities of female eggs for research and treatment, ES cells have yet to treat one human patient and their success in animal models has been very limited.  Subsequently, since funds for research are limited, they should be directed to research of adult stem cells which has yielded therapeutic results.

Due to its therapeutic chances, the alternative of adult stem cell research is more promising than research with embryonic stem cells. Therefore, it deserves more funding since it avoids all problems of funding research, which is illegal in many Member States. Europe should seek to be a pioneer in the field of science and medicine, but particularly in those areas where the citizens of Europe will feel practical benefit.  Adult stem cells represent the most advanced successes within the field of stem cell research. We remark that the European Parliament resolution on the trade in human egg cells interprets the principle of subsidiarity in a specific way: “Asks the Commission to apply the subsidiarity principle in connection with other forms of embryo research and embryonic stem cell research so that Member States in which this kind of research is legal fund it from their national budgets; considers that EU funding should concentrate on alternatives like somatic stem cell and umbilical cord stem cell research, which are accepted in all Member States and have already led to successful treatment of patients;[1]”

We believe that embryonic stem cell research endangers human dignity, which is the fundamental principle of Europe. If the EU does not provide EU-funding the research projects involving human embryos and human embryonic stem cells and chimeras, this does not mean that the EU would not support stem cell research as such: It would focus its research efforts on those promising areas of stem cell research which are ethically undisputed. Research on human embryos and human embryonic stem cells is legislated by the member states nationally, and should also be financed from the national budget.

We encourage you to write to your MEPs about this issue and to urge them not to provide EU-funding to research with human embryos, human embryonic stem cells and chimeras.

Download our summary of concerns here