Australia Stem Cell Regs Withstand Scrutiny

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA—Rejecting arguments that Australian stem cell regulations are too permissive, an independent panel on 7 July has advised the government not to alter the rules. "The current Australian legislation strikes the right balance in allowing valuable research to occur whilst providing clear safeguards to address concerns held by the wider community," says Megan Munsie, a spokesperson for the Australian Stem Cell Centre.

In 2002, Australia passed legislation legalizing the use of surplus human embryos from IVF clinics to derive embryonic stem cells. The law banned human cloning, although after a review in 2005 the law was amended the next year to allow therapeutic cloning, or somatic cell nuclear transfer. Australian researchers have so far generated over 50 embryonic stem cell lines from surplus embryos, and three research groups have been licensed to attempt somatic cell nuclear transfer.

Opponents have argued that the law should be rescinded since embryonic stem cells can now be generated from induced pluripotent stem cells, a technique that does not involve human embryos. After a 6-month review, a five-member committee led by former federal court judge Peter Heerey advised Parliament not to tinker with the regulations.

"We are pleased that human embryos can continue to be generated through somatic cell nuclear transfer for the production of human embryonic stem cells," says Justin St. John, director of the Centre for Reproduction and Development at the Monash Institute of Medical Research in Victoria. "It still remains to be determined whether the generation of stem cells by non-egg based approaches is going to be an effective approach."