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Stem Cell Society’s Inaugural Meeting
  
By Nancy Touchette

Researchers from around the world gathered in Washington, D.C., this week for the first meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

The meeting, which surprised organizers by attracting more than 700 people, included scientific sessions by dozens of the world’s top stem cell researchers. The meeting also featured an ethics roundtable discussion and a town hall meeting to identify issues the society should address.

The idea for the recently formed society grew out of a stem cell meeting in Colorado in 2002.

“We wanted an international association that would bring together researchers from all over,” says president Leonard Zon, of Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, who studies zebrafish development.

The motivation for forming the group was not directly related to President Bush’s restriction on human stem cell research, Zon says. “But we would like to play a role in tackling policy issues and educating the public.”

To this end, the society will launch a new Web site this August that will include sections for the general public, lawmakers, and the stem cell research community. The Web site will also post “white papers” that lay out recommendations for research and policy.

Among the issues raised during the town hall meeting that the society hopes to address will be a move to establish standards for characterizing stem cells, and ensuring that stem cell lines meet certain criteria for quality.

Zon says that he hopes to also develop uniform standards that could be adopted by research institutions and their review boards, which approve protocols for research.

“If I wanted to do human embryonic stem cell research at my institution, it would take over a year to get approval from the institutional review board,” says Zon. “We would like to develop uniform recommendations to streamline this process.”

Researchers at the meeting also discussed the need to establish guidelines for the use of stem cells in the clinic, to avoid any kind of harm to patients.

An underlying concern of many researchers, particularly those who depend on US government funds for support, is the availability of human embryonic stem cell lines. President Bush restricted the use of government funds to experiments conducted on stem cell lines created before August 2001.

Some researchers are developing new human cell lines without the use of government funds. Douglas Melton, of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and treasurer of ISSCR, said he was close to characterizing nine new human embryonic stem cell lines in work funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Association,

The original estimate of more than 70 available human embryonic stem cell lines has dwindled to less than a dozen. Several researchers asked what had happened to all of the cells on the “President’s List.” One priority will be to evaluate the quality of these available cell lines.

The Stem Cell Society Meeting kicked off what some have called “Stem Cell Week in Washington,” which included a two-day meeting at the US National Institutes of Health sponsored by the General Motors Cancer Research Fund and a one-day workshop sponsored by NIH.

Visit the ISSCR Web site

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