Summer bioethics course discusses ethical and policy issues at the cutting edge of stem cell science

In June, HSCI teamed with Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine to offer a weeklong intensive course in bioethics, “At the Cutting Edge of Stem Cell Science: Ethical and Policy Issues.” Developed and led by HSCI faculty members Willy Lensch, PhD, and Kevin Eggan, PhD, and Case Western faculty Insoo Hyun, PhD, and Stuart Youngner, MD, the course provided an overview of the latest “cutting edge” developments in stem cell research and the attendant ethical and policy issues that surround the research.

The fifty participants in this residential program reflected a microcosm of the social groups with vested interests in how stem cell research is conducted. With students from the United States, Canada, France, and Saudi Arabia, the class boasted an eclectic roster of clinicians, researchers, administrators, academicians, and students whose work and research/ policy interests focus on the many bioethical issues raised by stem cell science.

Course faculty talked about issues such as how, although the newest methodologies of stem cell research, including iPS (induced pluripotent stem cells), may appear to sidestep the debate over the use of human embryos, they have actually introduced some more complex dimensions to the discussion. Indeed, the topics of genetic manipulation and modification, the scientific utility of hybrids and chimeras, and the creation of embryos for use in stem cell research were discussed in the context of intellectual property and compensation for research participants. The proposed revision of NIH guidelines for stem cell research, formalized after the conclusion of the program, generated debate on whether the science’s ethical questions will result in further policy inertia. Overall, the scope of the participants’ backgrounds lent itself to in-depth and spirited discussions, eliciting unique perspectives that fueled the small group case study sessions.

Attendees attributed the success of the program to the clarification and demystification of the science by the participating HSCI faculty, and the multi-disciplinary examination of the ethical and policy issues.

“The HSCI/CWRU course not only updated me on some of the most cutting-edge stem cell research; it also made me consider how my work in stem cell biology relates to so many important ethical and policy issues,” said Heather L. Heine, PhD, University of British Columbia.

This program will be offered again in summer 2010, on the Harvard campus. Details will be available on the HSCI website: