Germany Should Revise Stem Cell Research Laws Scientists Say

Bioethics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Nov 10, 2006   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

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by Steven Ertelt Editor
November 10
, 2006

Berlin, Germany ( — Some scientists in Germany want the European nation to revise its laws governing stem cell research because they argue limits on it prevent them from achieving as much success as researchers in other nations.

Germany has long had strict rules on scientific research because of its concerns about previous unethical experiments on humans conducted during the Nazi era.

The German parliament approved a law in 2002 that prohibits the creation of embryonic stem cells in Germany and regulates the kinds of embryonic cells researchers can import. Scientists at Germany’s influential DFG institute want that law overturned.

"The 2002 law means German scientists are largely denied access to new stem lines and unable to work in international projects," the institute said, according to a Reuters report. "It should be abolished."

It said German researchers should not be prohibited from participating in the same international embryonic stem cell research in which scientists in other nations are allowed to engage.

German Research Minister Annette Schavan told Reuters she opposed overturning the law.

"With the (2002) cut-off date we can be sure there is no pressure from Germany to destroy embryos," she said.

Still, she confirmed that she is willing to look into the DFG request to lift criminal punishments on German scientists who participate in international projects.

Despite the law, German scientists are leading the way when it comes to research involving adult stem cells — including germ line stem cells.

German scientists have turned the mouse germ line cells into different types of tissue, including liver, heart, muscle, skin, pancreas and nerve cells.
Dr. Gerd Hasenfuss, of Georg-August University in Gottingen, indicated his team was beginning to study the cells in human males and has found similar results so far.

"These isolated spermatogonial stem cells respond to culture conditions and acquire embryonic stem cell properties," he wrote about the new cells.

If the results can be repeated in people, Hasenfuss said the cells could result in patient-specific matches "without the ethical and immunological problems associated with human embryonic stem cells."

The German researchers published their findings in March in the scientific journal Nature.

Hasenfuss said editors there demanded extra tests and heavy documentation before agreeing to publish the report. The journal was forced to retract two false embryonic stem cell research papers submitted by Hwang Woo-suk’s team after it faked embryonic stem cell research studies.

Because of its ethical concerns about scientific research, Germany led the way to develop a coalition with other European nations to ask the EU to limit taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research.