A+ A A-

U-M scientists plan stem cell research as new state law goes into effect

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A new state law loosening restrictions on embryonic stem cell research goes into effect today, and University of Michigan scientists are busy planning projects that could lead to new treatments for inherited diseases.

On Nov. 4, Michigan voters passed Proposal 2 by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent. The ballot measure amended the state constitution, overturning a 1978 Michigan law that prohibited the use of human embryos for research, even if those embryos were to be discarded.

The new law enables U-M stem-cell scientists to derive new embryonic stem cell lines, using procedures already employed in laboratories around the world. Embryonic stem cell research is believed to hold tremendous promise for developing new treatments for diseases such Type 1 diabetes and Parkinson?s.

"In the next few years, I believe stem cell research conducted at the University of Michigan will change the way people think about aspects of this field,? said Sean Morrison, director of the U-M Center for Stem Cell Biology. ?We are developing programs that have the potential for real impact.?

Leading stem cell scientists, physicians and ethicists from the University have met to discuss new stem-cell projects, with the goal of reducing human suffering and developing a better understanding of human physiology.

But before any new U-M embryonic stem cell research can be conducted, proposed projects must be reviewed and approved by an Institutional Review Board and by the University?s Embryonic Stem Cell Research Oversight Committee.

These committees -- composed of scientists, physicians, attorneys and ethicists -- will examine all proposals to ensure that the methods and goals are ethical and beneficial to patients. U-M stem-cell research must also conform to guidelines provided by the International Society for Stem Cell Research.

The University has received inquiries from patients interested in donating embryos left over from the in vitro fertilization process.

At this time, the University of Michigan is not able to accept embryo donations. However, U-M scientists are working to establish the infrastructure, consent forms and approvals needed to accept donated embryos under federal and Michigan law.

Inquiries have also been received about U-M clinical trials involving human embryonic stem cells. Currently, no clinical trials involving the use of human embryonic stem cells are under way at the University of Michigan. News about U-M stem-cell research, embryo donation and future clinical trials will be posted to the University?s stem cell Web site:

The new state law allows the use of human embryos for research already permitted under federal law, provided that: the embryos were created for fertility treatment purposes; they were not suitable for implantation or were left over after treatment ended; they would be discarded unless used for research; and they were donated by the person seeking fertility treatment.

The new law makes Michigan one of just three states that protect stem cell research in the state constitution, while enshrining specific restrictions. In addition to the restrictions listed above, the new law prohibits buying or selling embryos, as well as taking stem cells from embryos more than 14 days after cell division begins. It also requires the informed, written consent of embryo donors.

Stem Cells 101: Five things you should know about stem cell research