The Qatar International Conference on Stem Cell Science and Policy, organized through a partnership between Qatar Foundation and the James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy at Rice University, continues for two more days at the Qatar National Convention Centre.
"More than a millennium before Swiss microbiologist, Herman Fol, discovered the penetration of a spermatozoon into an ovum and proved its essential role in fertilization, Islam understood the concept of sperm-egg fertilization," said Professor Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh during the Qatar International Conference on Stem Cell Science and Policy.
However, scientific research in the region has not only occurred historically, but is also "happening now," according to Dr. Hatem A. El-Karanshawy of the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies. "As you can see here at the conference, research in stem cells has been occurring for quite some time in Qatar and around the region."
Since the establishment of the Supreme Council of Heath (SCH) by an Emiri decree in 2009, its mission has been to set forth governance for Qatar's science and research.
And following on fatwas issued by the Islamic Jurisprudence Council of the Islamic World League in 1997 and 2003, which approved embryonic stem cell research for therapeutic and scientific research purposes (if they were obtained from permissible sources), the SCH set up Qatar's National Research Ethics Committee to establish a Stem Cell Research Policy.
"Research and experiments in induced pluripotent stem cells and mouse and human embryonic stem cells are being conducted in the Middle East, whether here at Weill Cornell in Qatar, in Saudi Arabia or in Iran," added Dr. Jeremie A.R. Tabrizi of Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar. "This is because the ethical issues of stem cell research have been clearly addressed in Islam."
Ethical and regulatory clarity is what has allowed research in stem cells to flourish in Qatar. "Qatar has one of the most permissive policies on stem cell research," said President of Research and Development at Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development Faisal Mohammed Al-Suwaidi.
Elaborating further, Dr. Faleh Mohamed Hussein Ali of the SCH said, "Draft legislation on the protection of human tissue, which includes stem cell research, has been approved by the Executive Committee. Once implemented into law, it would enable the SCH to make recommendations, set regulations and establish a mandate across institutions that would allow for the standardization of research labs here in Qatar."
Dr. Ali concluded, "This legislation can be a model for laboratories in the GCC and across the Middle East."
"Moreover," added Dr. Tabrizi of Weill Cornell, "the establishment of a collaborative stem cell network throughout the region will lead to greater disease-targeted research, which is not currently possible with individual, private investment initiatives."
With its ethical, regulatory and scientific infrastructure, Qatar has a comparative advantage in this field whereby "new institutional approaches can be undertaken in the same way Johns Hopkins revolutionized modern medicine in 1880, creating new places for discoveries," said Dr. Richard Klausner, Managing Partner at the Column Group, a biotechnology venture capital firm in California.
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