Home Blog The EU agree to continue funding stem cell research

The EU agree to continue funding stem cell research

Last week we welcomed the news that the European Commission will not introduce legislation to restrict funding for stem cell research in response to the ‘One of Us’ Citizen’s Initiative.

Background

In December 2013, after much debate, the European Commission agreed the provisions of the current framework for funding stem cell research as part of Horizon 2020.

Stem cell research has huge potential to discover and develop life-improving and even life-saving treatments for a broad range of conditions including:

  • Regenerative medicine for incurable neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis
  • Reproductive health areas such as fertility concerns, recurrent miscarriage and severe development disorders
  • Rare genetic diseases through research in to chromosomal abnormalities and pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis

The ‘One of Us’ coalition sought to restrict funding for stem cell research using a European Citizen’s Initiative, a new tool introduced to encourage greater democratic involvement by citizens in European affairs. The initiative called on the Commission to introduce legislation banning the financing of all activities which may include the destruction of human embryos.

Stem cell research uses many different types of stem cells including adult stem cells, fetal stem cells, induced pluripotent stem cells and embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are harvested from embryos which are created for IVF but are never implanted into the womb. After the stem cells are extracted the embryos are destroyed meaning stem cell research would have been negatively affected had the ‘One of Us’ citizens’ initiative been successful.

In response to the ‘One of Us’ Citizen’s Initiative we signed a joint statement, along with many of our members and other medical research institutions, calling on the European Parliament, European Commission and Member States to maintain the funding already set out for stem cell research in Horizon 2020.

What’s happened now?

On 10 April, the ‘One of Us’ coalition presented their Initiative to the European Parliament and the European Commission at a public hearing. Last week the Commission published their response to the initiative stating that they will not be introducing legislation to restrict the funding of stem cell research.

The Commission’s report says:

Human embryonic stem cell research has the potential to contribute to the next generation of healthcare by offering treatments or possible cures for untreatable and/or life threatening diseases, such as Parkinson’s, diabetes, stroke, heart disease and blindness.

The report explains ‘that the checks and balances proposed [for Horizon 2020], identical to those agreed in FP7, provide appropriate safeguards to ensure compliance with the strict rules in place’ and notes that in a survey of public attitudes, used to inform the development of the Horizon 2020 funding framework, the majority of citizens approved of embryonic stem cell research.

While not everyone will agree with stem cell research, in particular the use of embryonic stem cells, the European Commission has previously debated the provisions for funding such research at great length and we welcome the news that they will not be going back on their decisions.