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Expert Appointed To Canadian Stem Cell Committee

17 November 2003

OTAGO BIOETHICS EXPERT APPOINTED
TO CANADIAN STEM CELL RESEARCH COMMITTEE

Ethics researcher Donald Evans is one of only two experts from outside North America appointed to a new top-level Canadian advisory body on stem-cell research.

Professor Evans, Director of the University of Otago’s Bioethics Centre, is the only Southern Hemisphere member of the 14-person Stem Cell Oversight Committee announced earlier this month by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

The Canadian committee’s primary role will be to review research funding applications dealing with human stem cells, to ensure each application conforms to guidelines for such research.

Scientists hope stem cells might lead to a medical breakthrough in fighting disease. But the work — which might involve manipulating very early cells from embryos — raises ethical questions that world health authorities are finding difficult to answer.

“Science is advancing at such a rate that it’s sometimes hard to understand what new developments may mean,” he says. “People often fear what they do not understand.”

Education, he believes, may go some way to alleviating some of those fears and clarifying issues.

Professor Evans says it’s interesting to see how different countries respond to stem cell research.

“The US has banned public funding for such work, and tried to see it stopped elsewhere, while some European countries have banned it but are happy to import the stem cells produced by others. And the UK legislation most facilitates embryonic stem cell research.

“By and large, Commonwealth countries are following the UK’s more liberal line and saying, yes, go ahead with caution. Canada is saying there’s pressure to be doing this, and we need to control it. I’m very pleased to be on the Canadian committee.”

Professor Evans was chosen after a world-wide call for committee members. His selection is a testament to his 20 years of considering such ethical questions, both in the UK and here in New Zealand.

As part of his involvement with New Zealand’s Independent Biotechnology Advisory Council, he produced a guide to cloning and stem cell research in this country. He is currently a member of the Health Research Council Ethics Committee and the National Ethics Advisory Committee of New Zealand.

ENDS

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