REB oversight of Embryonic Stem Cell Research in Ireland

Here is an interesting development in the debate over the use of stem cells in research. Last week in Ireland, one university, University College Cork (UCC), passed a policy to allow the use of embryonic stem cells in research.

Here’s the story from the Irish Times: UCC gives go-ahead for embryonic stem-cell research

A point worth noting:

There is no current legislation in Ireland over the use of embryonic stem cells although certainly, with other Universities planning to also follow UCC’s lead, pressure will be on the government to enact legislation. For now, oversight, policy development and monitoring will be the responsibility of the Research Ethics Board (REB) at the University.

The REB’s responsibility, (as articulated in the article and passed by the Academic Council of UCC), includes not only the ethical review and ongoing monitoring of research involving embryonic stem cells, which in and of itself would certainly not be an unusual role for an REB, but it also includes advising on the “scientific merit of the research aims of the project”. Most REBs require separate scientific review of proposed research, and while attentive to scientific merit, leave the evaluation to scientific review committees and discipline-specific peer review committees. In this case, in the absence of national policies or legislation regarding what is a very emotional and heated topic of debate, having the REB evaluate scientific merit could be seen as forcing the Board to act as gatekeepers, deciding what is either acceptable or not in terms of embryonic stem cell research. True, the UCC REB subcommittee will be made up of experts on the use of stem cells in research. However, this tremendous responsibility, which some might say is outside the standard purview of REBs, places the REB in what is, frankly, a potentially controversial and likely unenviable position.

~ by Nancy Walton on November 7, 2008.

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