To help standardize and protect the integrity of human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research, the National Academies has prepared a 131-page report containing a set of nonbinding ethics guidelines for scientists working in this area. Topping the list of recommendations is the call for institutions doing hESC research to set up oversight committees--with members from the public and scientific community--to review and monitor all hESC research proposals.
"Heightened oversight is essential to assure the public that stem cell research is being carried out in an ethical manner," said report cochair Jonathan D. Moreno, biomedical ethics professor at the University of Virginia. "The oversight we call for will in many instances set a higher standard than required by existing laws or regulations."
The guidelines include a tightening of rules governing the donation of embryos, eggs, and sperm. The report recommends that all donors be required to give informed consent, that all research using such donations be reviewed by institutional review boards, and that donors not be paid for their donation.
In addition, the report warns against combining hESC with nonhuman primate embryos. For other, nonprimate animals, such as mice, introduction of hESC should be allowed after careful review, and the resulting hybrids should not be allowed to breed, the report says.
"This report is absolutely critical to ensure an effective and ethical approach to embryonic stem cell research," said Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.). Castle is a cosponsor of a House bill to increase the number of hESC lines available for study with federal funds. "By ensuring that this cutting-edge research adheres to the highest ethical standards, the [National Academies] is rightly providing strong oversight recommendation," he said.