College chiefs face hot debate over use of stem cells

Olivia Kelleher

UNIVERSITY College Cork (UCC) could become the first academic institution in the country to introduce a policy that would allow the use of embryonic stem cells for research purposes.

The governing body of UCC will today debate a recommendation from the academic council that human embryonic stem cell research be allowed take place at the campus.

UCC President Dr Michael Murphy believes the advantages offered by the findings from embryonic cell stem research outweigh any anxiety people have about the process.

However, he will meet strong political and academic opposition to any use of stem cells for research purposes. Academics reportedly opposed to embryo research at the college include Associate Professor of Biochemistry Professor William Reville. However, UCC's Professor Tom Cotter and Dr Tom Moore are in favour of the move.

Munster MEP Kathy Sinnott has frequently urged UCC to opt for a ban on human embryonic stem cell research during its consultation process.

The college has been holding internal discussions on the possibility of its Biology Department embarking on research in the controversial field for the last year. Ms Sinnott previously called on UCC to opt for a ban on "embryo destruction".

Stem cells have the potential to develop into many different cell types and so could bring enormous therapeutic possibilities for conditions where adult cell function is lost, such as Parkinson's Disease or following a heart attack.

In theory, "embryonic" stem cells are the most versatile type, but sourcing these cells raises ethical concerns because it involves destroying human embryos.

International supporters of stem cell research include British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.


The 'Observer' newspaper earlier this year quoted the prime minister as saying the research could "save and transform millions of lives" by providing important therapies to fight disease.

"That is why we have -- patiently and with full regard for religious concerns -- sought to introduce clear laws which permit the use of stem cells within a clear, managed, legal framework subject to the strictest supervision," Mr Brown said.

British scientists have been pioneers in research on using stem cells -- undifferentiated cells that can turn into many tissue types -- to cure disease.

Embryonic stem cells were first discovered in 1998 and since then research has focused on how such cells can be coaxed into becoming heart, liver, bone or nerve cells.