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Stem cell researchers want watchdogs for human tests

Safety and ethics paramount

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As the debate over the ethics of leading stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk's research programme continues, UK scientists have called for international watchdogs to be set up to monitor the human testing of experimental therapies.

The scientists also said that the sourcing of human eggs for use in research is another area that needs to be addressed from an ethical standpoint.

These remarks were almost certainly prompted by reports earlier this week that Hwang had sourced the eggs used in his experiments from one of his own lab assistants.

If this is the case, he would be in clear breach of ethical guidelines. However, he says all his work has been in line with government guidelines, but would not comment further to protect the anonymity of those involved.

The scientists, who were speaking at a meeting on the ethical, legal and social issues raised by the research, said that beyond early stage research, stem cell therapies needed to be "assessed rigorously" in terms of safety and potential benefits, Reuters reports.

Finally, some of those present accused nations banning, or seriously restricting stem cell research, of double standards.

Professor Jan Helge Solbakk, of the University of Oslo in Norway said that if nothing else, these countries should donate any spare embryos from fertility treatments to countries that do allow the research.

"My message to these countries... is that one cannot continue to ban this research while at the same time silently accepting it will import any future therapies. That is a kind of double standard," he said. ®

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