Czech Education Minister Submits Country's First Stem Cell Bill
Prague - The Czech Minister of Education, Petra Buzkova, has put forward a bill on the scientific and therapeutic use of human embryos and stem cells in mid-October. If approved, the law will allow for extracting human embryonic stem cells (hES) from residual embryos from in vitro fertilization treatments that are damaged or would otherwise be discarded - provided that both parents give their informed consent. Under the terms of the proposed bill scientists will be forbidden to create embryos for obtaining stem cells for research purposes or to clone embryos from stem cells. The bill foresees the establishment of a commission that would authorize research projects with hES. It is envisaged that stem cell research could yield treatments among others for diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's or cardiovascular diseases.
The Czech Republic currently lacks a regulatory framework for research on human embryonic stem cells and the use thereof (see p. 5). Essential normative standards have been laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine that precedes statutory legislation in the Czech legal order. “We have 16 centers for assisted reproduction, with hundreds of embryos. We also have good scientific groups ready to start with this research. We hope, that such research will start under very strict regulations,” Vladimir Viklicky, chairman of the Bioethical commission of the Government Council for Research and Development which co-prepared the bill, told EuroBiotechNews. The Christian Democratic Union (KDU-CSL), a party in the governing coalition, strongly opposes the bill for ethical reasons. KDU-CSL First Deputy Chairman Jan Kasal stated in the Prague Post he considers it to be “very disgusting to experiment on human embryos. For me, the frozen or unfrozen embryo has the same value.”
Prof. Petr Dvorak and Dr. Alex Hampl at the Mendel University of Agriculture and Forestry in Brno welcome the new law because “it treats hES in a very similar way as in England. It could change a lot for us, because at present there are serious difficulties to get official financing of hES research.” The law would make it easier to get support from Czech grant agencies and to apply for EU projects, the success of which could be hampered in the light of the unclear legal situation in the Czech Republic. Dvorak and Hampl were the first Czech scientists to isolate hES from surplus embryos (blastocysts) which were donated to them by the Centre for Assisted Reproduction - after the couples and the University's ethical committee gave their consent.
14 cell lines were obtained using mouse embryonic fibroblast feeder layers, but some lines were adapted also to feeders of human fibroblasts. After loosing seven lines due to contamination they could characterize the other seven and have shown in in vitro experiments that they are able to form ecto-, meso- and endodermal cell types. Further in vivo experiments are planned. However due to the lack of financial support Dvorak and Hampl are fearing the closure of their lab at the end of the year. “We are thinking of going abroad, but this is rather theoretical. We will consider all possibilities.”