Today is New Year’s Day for the Chinese New Year. Happy New Year! On the Chinese Calendar it is year 4708 instead of 2011.
I hope year 4708 is a good one for you and your family.
Today being Chinese New Year has got me thinking about how the Chinese view stem cell research.
My impression is that the Chinese government is very excited about advancing stem cell research in China, but as of a few years ago, they still had not devoted much in the way of resources (seeNEJM article from 2006). My impression is that more recently the amount of resources has increased substantially via the Ministry of Science and Technology. The ministry issued guidelines in 2003 for human embryonic stem cell research that can be found here (scroll down the page). This is a very interesting read and provides important insight into Chinese perspectives on ES cells and human development. It suggests a more open attitude about stem cell research than in the U.S.
But I was also asking myself: how do ordinary Chinese people and scientists feel about stem cell research, especially embryonic stem cell research?
As with any country, there are many and diverse views in China on this topic so I do not claim to be writing here an exhaustive piece on different views, but more general perspectives.
The same NEJM article mentioned earlier also explored the broader Chinese perspective on ES cell research. It reports that “most Chinese citizens do not view the embryo as being imbued with an inherent moral value”. The sense is that very early embryos such as those used to make ES cells that are only a few days old and only have a few dozen cells are not viewed as living beings. The authors, Drs. Murray and Spar, go on to say, “It is not that Chinese researchers or regulators have a callous attitude toward the embryo–they don’t. But stem cell research in China is unlikely ever to be prone to the intense moral politicking that characterizes the field in the West, particularly the United States.”
An article just in the last week gives a more up-to-date view on stem cell research in China and suggests a very high degree of interest. Reportedly, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has designated stem cell research as one of 8 “strategic trailblazing research projects”. To show you the level of seriousness, some of the other 8 include nuclear fission, space science, and clean energy. One potential serious concern is the stem cell tourism industry in China and other countries, which can be exploitive and downright dangerous. One hopes that stricter regulation will put an end to stem cell tourism and advance legitimate science-based, regulated translational research.
My overall sense is that China could very well develop into a top area for stem cell research in coming decade if specific challenges are overcome.