Failing to give full picture on stem cell research

DR STEPHEN SULLIVAN (Feb 18) calls for legislation to regulate the use of stem cells in Ireland. Dr Sullivan is a Director of the Irish Stem Cell Foundation, a group that campaigns on behalf of embryonic stem cell research.

Dr Sullivan does not give us the full picture regarding stem cell research in Ireland. Basically, three types of human stem cell offer potential in medicine — adult stem cells (ASC), induced pluripotent stem cells (IPSC) and embryonic stem cells (ESC). Research using ASC and IPSC is already underway in Ireland and, to my knowledge, no barriers are put in the way of such research. For example, a very active and successful group carries out ASC research at the National University of Ireland at Galway. The two leading Irish funding agencies, Science Foundation Ireland and The Health Research Board, have been directed by the Government, via the Department of Health, not to fund ESC research and, to my knowledge, no ESC research is currently underway here. The problem with ESC research is that, although such research is scientifically promising, the harvesting of embryonic stem cells to do ESC research entails killing human embryos. No such ethical problem attends ASC or IPSC research. A number of public opinion polls in Ireland have shown that a majority of people are opposed to ESC research on ethical grounds.

Professor William Reville

Biochemistry Department

University College Cork

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