UCC gives go-ahead for embryonic stem-cell research

Tue, Oct 28, 2008, 00:00

The governors of University College Cork have paved the way for embryonic stem cell research to be carried out at the university when they decided by a single vote this evening to endorse a code of practice on the issue recommended by the university’s Academic Council.

UCC became the first third level institution in the Republic to effectively allow embryonic stem cell research when members of the 40 strong governing body voted by 16 votes to 15 to note the recommendation of the Academic Council.

It had been open to the Governing Body to send the matter back to the Academic Council for review but they chose instead to note the recommendation, effectively ratifying the code of practice so that it now becomes university policy.

President of UCC, Dr Michael Murphy spoke in favour of the code of practice, citing the fact that a number of researchers at the university had said that embryonic stem cell research was essential to their work, The Irish Times has learned.

According to one informed source, most of the support for approving the policy came from academics on the governing body with many members on the board who represent external bodies seeking to have the matter sent back to the academic council for clarification.

Among those who strongly opposed the move was the representative of Tipperary North and South Ridings, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, Dr Dermot Clifford who said that human life begins at conception and the policy broke the Fifth Commandment that "Thou Shalt not Kill".

One informed source told The Irish Times that the mood of the 45 minute long debate was polite and respectful throughout and that each of the 30 plus members present was given an opportunity to speak by Chairman Dermot Gleeson before a vote was taken.

UCC later issued a statement in which it confirmed the governing body had adopted the code of practice which had been drawn up by the University Research Ethics Board and approved by the Academic Council earlier this month.

A UCC spokesman pointed out that there is a current legislative vacuum in Ireland regarding the research use of embryos created for purposes of reproduction or the creation of embryos for research purposes.

Until yesterday’s decision by the governing body, any UCC researcher could import embryonic stem cells for research but now they must apply to do so and can only engage in research using human embryonic stem cell lines (hESC) imported from approved sources.

According to UCC, the guidelines adopted by the university require that every research project involving the use of hESC must be submitted to the University Research Ethics Board for ethical review before the start of the project.

The UREB will establish a subcommittee with appropriate expertise to advise it in relation to the scientific merit of the research aims of the project and the relevant expertise of the investigator to under the research.

The UREB subcommittee will also advise on the repository from which it is proposed that the hESC lines will be imported including its protocols for deposit, storage and distribution of hESC lines, said UCC in its statement.

It will also advise on the source of the cells used in the production of the cell lines in particular the procedures used in the procurement of the cells to ensure voluntary informed consent of donors, privacy, and absence of any payment or other inducements to donors

And the subcommittee will also advise on the scientific justification for the use of hESC lines, including the feasibility of using alternative research methods (such as animal or in vitro models) that do not require the use of hESC lines, it said.

Approval of all research projects shall be by a majority of UREB members after consideration of the scientific and ethical issues and the UREB will decide on the frequency and timing of ongoing monitoring to ensure the ethical code of practice is complied with, it added.