From Bio Journal - December 2008

Agreement reached on lifting ban on production of reproductive cells from pluripotent cells

A MEXT working group has reached agreement on a policy to allow the production of sperm and ova from human iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells and other cells known as "pluripotent cells" (See BJ October 2008). Although the basic policy to lift the ban on the production of human reproductive cells was reached very quickly at the meeting of the working group held on 17 October 2008, there was a great difference in opinions between the members of the working group concerning what might happen next, i.e. whether or not to allow the fertilization of the resulting ova by the sperm. Professor NAKAUCHI Hiromitsu of the Tokyo University Institute of Medical Science, claiming that fertilization should be permitted, stated, "However nicely shaped the produced sperm and ova may be, we won't know (how good they are) unless we use them for fertilization." An opposing opinion was put forth by several members of the working group, including Professor SUDA Toshio of the Keio University School of Medicine, who stated that, "If we allow that, then we have to think about the next thing, which is the placing (of the fertilized ovum) inside a body, so I think that for the time being it is better to ban fertilization." In the end, the meeting ran out of time and the conclusion was held over to subsequent meetings. Whatever that conclusion may turn out to be, there can be no doubt that the severe restrictions that were at first placed on pluripotent cells are going to be slowly relaxed.

Double screening for human ES cell research to be reviewed

A meeting of the specialist bioethics panel of the Cabinet Office Council for Science and Technology Policy was held on 30 October 2008 at which it was agreed that a recommendation should be made to MEXT to review the double screening procedure prescribed by the guidelines for human ES cell research. The current guidelines state that a double screening procedure (by the ethics committee of the research institute concerned and by the state) must be carried out for both research where new ES cells are established and for research where existing ES cells are used for research. The specialist panel came up with a new policy under which research where new ES cells were produced would be screened under the existing double screening procedure, but screening greatly relaxed in the case of research where existing ES cells were to be used, albeit with some conditions attached. The latter would require screening only by the ethics committee of the research institute involved. This proposal will now be discussed by a MEXT specialist committee, which will then reply to the specialist panel with a review proposal.

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