Major rethink needed on stem cells and regenerative medicine

UCL researchers are leading a call for a coordinated strategy to reform the management of scientific discoveries and clinical experimentation involving stem cells and regenerative medicine.

They argue that a combination of poor quality science, unclear funding models, unrealistic hopes and unscrupulous private clinics threaten regenerative medicine’s social licence to operate.

To deliver sustainable, clinically significant, and equitable benefits to patients, they say a substantial rethink of the field is needed and that a new strategy should be rooted in ’better science, better funding models, better governance, and better public and patient engagement’.

’The Lancet Commission: Stem cells and regenerative medicine’ was published today and authored by experts in science, medicine, law, anthropology, ethics, philosophy, health economics and public engagement from UCL, the University of Manchester, Sense About Science, the University of Bristol and industry.

Funded in part by the UCL Grand Challenge of Human Wellbeing, the commission highlights the complex challenges faced by those working in the diverse field of stem cells and regenerative medicine across a variety of sectors and makes recommendations to address the issues.

It emphasises the importance of funding the best quality basic research and rigorous preclinical work in animals ahead of clinical experimentation, as well as the need to invest in more clinician scientists to help transition scientific discoveries successfully into the clinic.

Currently, evidence of the cost-effectiveness and scalability of regenerative medicine is exceedingly sparse despite an exponential growth in experimental therapies in the last 10 years. The commission calls for more research to build a body of evidence and emphasises the need for new therapies to follow a strong governance framework oriented towards public interest.

The authors also urge researchers and those involved in funding, publishing and communicating stem cell research to engage the public in open dialogue as a means of bridging the gap between the expectation of patients and the realities of treatment outcomes.

Professor David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research), said: "To realise the potential of this diverse field and improve wellbeing for all, it is clear that we must unite to address the ethical and governance issues, while supporting multifaceted research that brings together scientists, clinicians and engineers from academia and industry.

"UCL is committed to research leadership in this field, by which we mean advancing the discipline (including through consideration of ethical implications), engaging in collaborative research aimed at bringing significant public benefit, and disseminating the research findings widely, honestly and clearly. The report is a welcome move forward in promoting responsible research in stem cells and regenerative medicine."

Dr Richard Horton, editor-in-chief of The Lancet, said: "Regenerative medicine offers transformative potential for the future of patient care. But that potential could be jeopardised by low quality research and a loss of public trust in stem cell science. This Lancet Commission sets out the societal opportunities of regenerative medicine. It also makes critical recommendations for protecting and strengthening both the quality of research and public confidence in this important and exciting new branch of medical science."

The UCL authors include:


  • Human blood with red blood cells, T cells (orange) and platelets (green)(credit: Zeiss Microscopy, source: Flickr )