x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Embryo research a moral and ethical minefield

Stem-cell research may be the future of medicine but it is also mired in controversy.

Stem-cell research may be the future of medicine but it is also mired in controversy. Dubai Health Authority ordered a stem-cell company to cease operation last month after it was found to be promoting a treatment linked with the deaths of two children.

Omni Medical Health Services was founded by Dr Cornelis Kleinboesen, whose facility in Germany was shut down last year after two small children died when their brains were injected with stem cells.

As well as the issue of some doctors promising to cure anything and everything through stem-cell transplantation, some treatments raise moral and ethical concerns. Harvesting stem cells from embryos surplus to fertility treatment leads to the embryo - and potentially a life - being destroyed.

The debate over the ethics of this procedure resulted in the US president George Bush restricting funding for embryo research in 2001, a decision reversed in 2009 by his successor, Barack Obama.

Although embryo research is permitted under Islamic law, today there are only a handful of embryonic stem-cell research units in the world and it is debatable whether this research will survive when there are more ethical approaches available - such as a new technique that involves genetically reprogramming any tissue cell in the body to act as embryonic stem cells do.

* Alice Haine