On St. Patrick’s Day, an update on stem cells in Ireland by Stephen Sullivan

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the Irish Stem Cell Foundation (www.stemcell.ie)! I’ve included a few picture from the parade here in Ireland.

St. Patrick's Day Parade Ireland MusicianScientifically, Ireland is going through a lean period. The national science funding agency SFI is having its first grant call in 2 years. If recent history is a predictor, they are more likely to fund grants based on geography (which centre or college you are associated with) and how quick the perceived economic benefit will be. This means information technology (particularly areas like Fin Tech) are a lot more likely to get funded than long term pursuits like biomedical research. It is not surprising then that we see the national centre for regenerative medicine research (REMEDI) being subsumed by the centre for medical devices (CURAM) as there has been little evidence of an immediate economic return.

This move may actually might be a good thing for stem cell research in Ireland, as the centre has had a near monopoly of national funding for the last ten years or so, meaning if you were not a researcher at the centre, you weren’t likely to get stem cell work funded. There are researchers with stem cell expertise in other colleges and centres now who might be supported in the future. So we shall wait and see what happens.

St. Patrick's Day Parade Ireland Politically speaking, science is weaker in Ireland now than at any point in the last twenty years, Ireland has lost its national council for bioethics, its independent office of Chief Scientific Advisor (the public servant charged with dispersing Ireland’s investment into science, is now also charged with assessing its impact – an obvious conflict of interest). Worse again, we have no Government minister with Science mentioned explicitly in their brief. So as North American scientists mobilise against denial of Science in public policy or proposed funding cuts, it’s something we have struggled with in Ireland for some time.

Despite the climate, Irish stem cell researchers have to fight against misinformation peddled by scammers and the zealous. A recent discussion I partook in at the BBC shows the particular problems we face in Ireland with regard to stem cell research, often it with get rolled in with a lot of ancillary topics that the Irish Government has also not dealt with. Thus, it is our job to extricate all the different topics and show where the status of each truly lies.

The short discussion included topics as diverse as stem cell tourism, reproductive cloning, artificial embryos, embryonic- and induced pluripotent- stem cells, 3 parent IVF, IVF embryo storage, artificial wombs, and the history of ‘fake news’ in cloning: Dolly the sheep ‘eating shepards’, and stem cell derived-sperm and eggs.

Hard work and slow progress.

You can listen to it by clicking here and scrolling in 34 minutes into the program where our discussion starts. Feel free to tell us what you think at @irishstemcell on Twitter or via email [email protected].

Stephen Sullivan PhD, CSO Irish Stem Cell Foundation

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