Stem-cell vote by UCC governors paves way for campus research


THE GOVERNORS of University College Cork yesterday paved the way for embryonic stem-cell research to be carried out at the university when they decided by one vote 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 council's recommendation.

It had been open to the governors to send the matter back to the council for review, but they chose instead to note the recommendation, effectively ratifying the code so it becomes university policy.

President of UCC Dr Michael Murphy spoke in favour of the code, citing the fact that a number of researchers at the university had said 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 board members who represent external bodies seeking to have the matter sent back to the academic council for clarification.

Among those who opposed the move was the representative of Tipperary north and south ridings, Dr Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel and Emly, who said human life begins at conception and the policy broke the Fifth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill".

A source said the mood of the 45-minute debate was polite and respectful and each of the 30-plus members present was given an opportunity to speak by chairman Dermot Gleeson before a vote was taken.

A UCC spokesman said there was a legislative vacuum in Ireland regarding research use of embryos created for purposes of reproduction or the creation of embryos for research purposes.

Until yesterday's decision, 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 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 board will establish a subcommittee with appropriate expertise to advise it in relation to the scientific merit of the research aims of the project. The subcommittee will also advise on the repository from which it is proposed the cell lines will be imported including its protocols for deposit, storage and distribution of the cell lines, said UCC.

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. The subcommittee will also advise on the scientific justification for the use of hESC lines, including the feasibility of using alternative research methods.