Inside Opinion: Fears Over European Stem Cell Decision Overstated – a View from the Trenches

Posted By Dr. Torsten Holm Nielsen – Dec. 11, 2011

Dr. Torsten Holm Nielsen is a Danish physician who has practised in Denmark and Sweden. Dr. Nielsen is also an oncology researcher investigating innovative drug treatments for difficult to treat B cell lymphomas.

The recent ruling from the European Court of Justice (EJC) banning patents on materials derived from human embryos, hereunder-embryonic stem cells, has drawn much attention of late. European stem cell researchers in both academia and industry as well as legal professionals have warned that the decision may weaken the ability of European stem cell research to attract funding which will lead to an exodus of stem cell research from the European Union (EU) to areas of the world where better legal protection for novel technologies/applications is available. In my opinion, this is likely an exaggeration and I think the impact of this ruling on European stem cell research may be less severe than feared for two reasons. First, any new technologies involving embryonic stem cells will almost certainly also involve other highly complex methods and technologies not directly related to embryonic stem cells and therefore patentable under EU law, thereby offering a degree of protection of the combined technology. Second, stem cells can be “induced” from non-stem cells derived from adult tissues, thereby obviating the need for embryonic stem cells. Technologies derived from these induced pluripotent stem cells would not be subject to the decision concerning embryonic stem cells, making them an attractive alternative. The EJC’s ruling probably represents a desire on the part of the Court to very clearly convey the message that human embryos are not to be commercialized. It is to be hoped that this message does not also spell the end of European stem cell research.

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