A bioethics panel approved guidelines Wednesday for research into embryonic stem cells, which can be used to grow all organs and tissues of the human body.
The Expert Panel on Bioethics, under the Cabinet Office’s Council for Science and Technology Policy, approved the guidelines at a meeting in Tokyo.
Following the panel’s approval, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is expected to approve the guidelines by the end of the month, at the earliest. The step paves the way for the possible launch of research on embryonic cells in Japan by the end of the year.
Osaka University, among other places, has begun preparations to embark on such research. There are strong expectations that embryonic stem cells will be usable in the future to regenerate damaged tissue, and competition in such research is intensifying, mainly in Europe and the United States.
According to the guidelines, embryonic cells can only be drawn from in vitro fertilized eggs created for the purpose of fertility treatment that are set to be discarded.
The guidelines call for fertilized eggs to be free of charge, for the informed consent of couples providing the fertilized eggs, and to strictly protect the privacy of donors.
The propriety of embryonic stem cell research will be discussed both by the bioethics committee of the institution conducting research and a deliberation committee at the science ministry, according to the guidelines.
For the time being, only basic research will be approved and adaptation for clinical purposes will be banned, according to the guidelines. Research leading to the production of sperm, ova or fetuses from the stem cells will also be banned.
The guidelines stipulate that the science ministry will make any violations public.
Kyoto University plans to create stem cells from fertilized eggs and provide them to research institutions in Japan.
Osaka University and the University of Tokyo plan to conduct research using stem cells imported from the U.S.
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