Press Release No. 8 | 14 February 2008
Politics has taken Notice of Science
The DFG appreciates the seriousness of the Parliamentary debate on the Stem Cell Act
"The objective, serious and highly responsible debate was very impressive", said the President of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), Professor Matthias Kleiner, summing up his feelings following the first reading of the amendment of the Stem Cell Act in the Federal Parliament. He emphasised that he was very pleased about how clearly the voice of the scientific community had been heeded by the politicians. He also highlighted the fact that the compromise between the freedom to conduct research and ethical restrictions that was reached in 2002 had been thrown off kilter, as there were now only a very few stem cells available for research purposes in Germany, and that they are largely contaminated. This balance thus needs to be restored, either by doing away with the existing "qualifying date" entirely, or by postponing it.
The Vice President of the DFG, Professor Jörg-Hinrich Hacker, from Würzburg, who is responsible for biomedical issues, highlighted the fact that the debate on importing stem cells had been conducted on the basis of the existing Embryo Protection Act, which the scientific community had always been in favour of retaining. The recent success in reprogramming adult cells would have been impossible without the research conducted using embryonic stem cells. Further progress in this field would, he said, be inconceivable without comparative studies. Without thorough basic research, Hacker continued, it would also be impossible to develop any therapeutic method in the field of regenerative medicine. Patience is an essential part of the nature of basic research. No form of therapy is yet to be expected in this central, forward-looking field of research.
In a statement on the future of stem cell research in Germany released in November 2006, the DFG recommended that the current so-called qualifying date rule should be abolished and the threat of punishment hanging over German scientists should be lifted. It thus welcomes the fact that all of the parties involved in the current debate in the Federal Parliament evidently see the question of punishing German scientists collaborating with foreign colleagues in this area as being outdated and obsolete. The DFG recognises this as a sign that the distrust of German stem cell researchers has ceased to exist.
The DFG wishes to point out again, quite clearly, that imported stem cell lines may still only be harvested from so-called supernumerary embryos, in other words embryos that are no longer required for reproductive purposes.