Qatar is poised to emerge as a major centre for embryonic stem cell research, one of the most advanced and highly controversial fields of medical studies.
Weill Cornel Medical College in Qatar is set to embark on research projects that will facilitate the setting up of an independent stem cell research laboratory in Doha. The facility will have technology to expand, maintain and validate the new human embryonic stem cells and in developing cell lines.
Qatar entered the stem cell banking and research field when it started looking into using cell therapy for its cancer patients. Experts have been split over the ethical issues in embryonic stem cell research as it usually leads to destruction of the embryo.
“Qatar is studying the issue and will bring in scientists and Shariah scholars to look into all aspects of the issue,” according to Dr Fathy Saoud, President of Qatar Foundation. “In fact along with the Islamic Faulty at Qatar Foundation we are already looking into the matter.”
Experts taking part in a meeting in Doha recently is said to have come to a conclusion that embryonic stem cell research can be done. Religious teachings do not stand in the way if the embryo is at a very early stage (at a stage before it becomes alive), according to one of the participants.
Qatar’s policy, he said, will not be against those who believe that embryonic stem cell research violates the sanctity of life. In-vitro fertilisation programmes worldwide leads to waste of human embryos. When fertilisation is done in the laboratories, many embryos are formed out of which only the best are implanted into the womb. Hundreds of embryos are discarded each day. The researches in Qatar can utilise these embryos which are usually thrown away.
Stem cells are characterised by the ability to renew themselves and differentiate into a diverse range of specialised cell types. Embryonic stem cells are derived from the inner cell mass during the early stages of embryonic development. Hence most of these stem cell researches require the destruction of a human embryo, a point that anti- embryonic stem cell research groups have always stressed.
Since stem cells have the ability to differentiate into any type of cell, they hold the promise in development of medical treatment for a wide range of conditions from physical trauma to degenerative conditions to genetic diseases.
Earlier this year, the US’s Food and Drug Administration had approved the first human clinical trials using embryonic stem cells.
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