The United States is only one of many countries playing an important role in stem cell research. In the last decade, several European and Asian countries have become leading centers for the study of stem cells and their possible therapeutic uses. These countries, along with countries from other regions of the world, have greatly expanded the scope of stem cell research, creating an array of scientific advances and medical applications. Below is a rundown on the laws and policies on stem cell research in various countries, as well as their significant research efforts.
In 2004, South Africa became the first African nation to create a stem cell bank. The previous year, the South African government had enacted legislation maintaining a ban on reproductive cloning but authorizing the therapeutic cloning of embryos. In 2002, when South Africa's Mark Shuttleworth became the first African to visit the international space station, he conducted experiments designed by South African researchers to study the development of stem cells in zero-gravity conditions.
China prohibits human reproductive cloning but allows the creation of human embryos for research and therapeutic purposes. The government's most recent regulations on stem cell research, issued in 2003, came in response to international criticism that Chinese regulators were lax in their supervision and enforcement of ethical guidelines for stem cell research. Nonetheless, China continues to permit researchers to conduct clinical trials in which terminally or chronically ill patients receive stem cell therapy.
India has established a booming industry in stem cell banking, which involves storing a patient's stem cells with the aim of possibly using them for future medical treatments. In 2007, the Indian government's biomedical oversight body, the Council for Medical Research, banned reproductive cloning but voted to permit therapeutic cloning. The council also issued guidelines for clinical trials involving stem cells. Currently, stem cells have only been approved for use in bone marrow transplants.
In 2004, Japan's Council for Science and Technology Policy voted to allow scientists to conduct stem cell research for therapeutic purposes, though formal guidelines have yet to be released. In November 2007, Japanese scientists, in collaboration with American researchers, discovered that human skin cells could be reprogrammed to behave like embryonic stem cells. Though still in the early experimental phase, some believe that this procedure could help diffuse the debate over the destruction of embryos by providing a viable alternative to using embryonic stem cell lines.
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