Obama stem cell policy may benefit India

On March 9 this year,the Obama administration in the United States rolled back an August 9,2001 Bush government policy that kept the US government funding for embryonic stem cell.....

Written by Johnson T A | Bangalore | Published:March 26, 2009 2:05 am

On March 9 this year,the Obama administration in the United States rolled back an August 9,2001 Bush government policy that kept the US government funding for embryonic stem cell research restricted to 11 cell cultures developed prior to August 2001,that included stem cells at two labs in India.

The Bush policy on stem cells (basic cells that can repair damaged organs and tissues across the human body),along with restrictions on inter-country movement of cells,meant that no major India-US collaborative research was undertaken in a controversial field,that is,nevertheless,considered the key to the future of healthcare.

The new initiative by the Obama administration frees up hundreds of stem cell lines around the world for US funding and is expected to expand collaborations with Indian researchers,who have over the past decade,under fewer restrictions,pushed ahead with their own research.

“The future impact that I see of the reversal of the Bush administration policy on embryonic stem cell research is active collaborations since federal funding will be available in abundance,” says Dr Satish Totey,chief scientific officer of India’s first full fledged stem cell products company,the Bangalore-headquartered Stempeutics.

Unlike the Bush policy that allowed funding only to cell lines derived prior to August 2001,such as the Reliance Life Sciences and the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research,the new policy will find new collaborators,he said. “There will be a huge impact on collaborative research,” he added.

According to Dr Totey,though Indian research has been unrestricted for the last eight years there have been few industries set up around stem cell products apart from Reliance Life Sciences and Stempeutics. The US initiative will see the realization of more embryonic stem cell products in the market,he said. Dr Totey,however,warns that there could be a downside in India in the form of “exploitation of weak laws for fertility and in-vitro fertilization treatment.”

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